Thu Apr 26, 11:07 AM ET
The Basque town of Guernica marked the 70th anniversary on Thursday of its destruction by German warplanes backing the right-wing forces of General Francisco Franco during Spain's Civil War.
Basque flags adorned the mayor's office and some inhabitants draped their balconies in black as survivors of the attack attended commemorative ceremonies.
A declaration called "Guernica for Peace" was read in various languages in the presence of representatives of other cities destroyed in war such as Hiroshima in Japan, Dresden in Germany, Warsaw and Volgograd, the former Stalingrad.
The Guernica bombing "is the mirror in which all the bombings and all the injustices are reflected, which makes us think of all the 30 wars that are going on right now on our planet," the declaration said.
A mass, concert and wreath-laying for those who died in the attack by the Nazis' Condor Legion aircraft, which killed hundreds and leveled three-quarters of the town on April 26, 1937, were also programmed.
"There was the humming of planes and then the blasts and the heat from the firebombs. I could think of only one thing: survival," Luis Iriondo, a survivor of the attack who was 14 at the time, told AFP ahead of Thursday's event.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his resistance to Argentina's so-called Dirty War against leftist rebels, also attended the event in Guernica, a town of some 16,000 people.
He encouraged the Spanish government to continue seeking ways, "despite everything" of making peace with separatist Basque organisation ETA.
Ahead of the commemorations Basque regional president Juan Jose Ibarretxe demanded that the central government in Madrid apologise to the Basque people for the attack and condemn Franco's dictatorship.
Earlier in the day Ibarretxe and Guernica mayor Miguel Angel Aranaz opened an exhibition on the bombing, which includes images of the attack and a virtual tour of Guernica, before and after the destruction.
Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist after the three-year civil war which ended in 1939. Some half a million people died in the conflict. Franco ruled until his death in 1975.
Most historians believe Guernica was targeted by Franco because it is a centre of Basque nationalism and cultural traditions.
The town was once home to an oak tree which Spanish kings would stand beneath and vow to respect an ancient code giving the independent-minded Basques special rights.
The tree survived the bombing but died during a heatwave in 2003 and was replaced two years later.
Thursday's anniversary has also led to renewed calls for Picasso's painting "Guernica", which was inspired by the attack, to be put on display in the town.
The black and white oil painting has been on display at the Reina Sofia modern art museum in Madrid since 1992.
Museum directors and the central government in Madrid turned down the request. They say the painting is to fragile to be moved.
Basque government officials said they would now try to have the painting moved to Guernica in time for the 75th anniversary of the attack, which heralded the area bombing of urban centres in World War II.
Oh yes, democracy is back in Spain.
How many more Gernikas before the Basque right to self determination is fully recognized by not only Spain and France but the international community?