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Journalists in war deaths protest

Photographers show pictures of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso in front of Aznar at parliament.
Photographers show pictures of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso in front of Aznar at parliament.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish journalists turned their backs on their prime minister and walked out of an appearance by the country's foreign minister and his British counterpart Wednesday in protest at the deaths of two colleagues in Baghdad.

UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who had been meeting Ana Palacio about the future of Iraq, seemed surprised when more than 20 journalists suddenly turned off their cameras, shut their notebooks and left the joint news conference in Madrid.

The British minister later said he could understand "the strength of the feelings," adding that "people are very upset at the loss of their colleagues."

The protesters were most incensed by Tuesday's death of a cameraman from the Spanish TV station Telecinco, who, along with a Reuters cameraman, died from wounds after a coalition tank shell hit Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. The hotel was known to be an operations base for international journalists.

Meanwhile Wednesday international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders urged U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to provide evidence that U.S. forces fired in self-defense, as the Pentagon said, and not deliberately. (Full story)

U.S. Central Command said its forces came under "significant enemy fire" from the buildings and responded "consistent with the inherent right of self-defense."

Journalists from three western television networks told CNN, however, that they were in the Palestine Hotel when the tank fired and saw no outgoing fire from the hotel.

In similar protests Tuesday, photographers turned their backs on Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Parliament, and earlier, when Aznar was at the Senate, television photographers set their cameras on the ground rather than record his appearance.

Several hundred Spanish journalists also protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.

At the news conference at the Foreign Ministry, Palacio said she had just spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to press the United States to investigate the hotel's shelling.

Palacio declined to answer directly whether the Spanish government had been told -- before the shelling of the Palestine Hotel -- if the building had been put on the list of military targets.

Palacio also said Spain was trying to help evacuate Spanish journalists in Baghdad who wanted to leave.

Most journalists in Baghdad were staying at the Palestine Hotel.
Most journalists in Baghdad were staying at the Palestine Hotel.

Telecinco TV cameraman Jose Couso died in surgery at a Baghdad hospital after the blast at the Palestine Hotel, where he was working.

The journalists also were protesting against Monday's death of reporter Julio Anguita Parrado, of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. He was killed when an Iraqi missile hit a U.S. Army tactical operations center south of Baghdad.

Aznar has been one of President Bush's staunchest allies in the war on Iraq, despite public opinion polls taken before and just after the hostilities began that indicated 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the war.

Spain has deployed 900 troops and three ships to help in humanitarian efforts in support of the war. Aznar said in Parliament that they arrived Wednesday at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

Straw came to Madrid Wednesday after meetings in Paris with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. Straw was due to leave the Spanish capital after his meeting with Palacio.

-- CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report

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