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Salvadoran leader apologizes for bishop's killing

El Salvador's first leftist president publicly apologized on behalf of the state Wednesday for the assassination of a Roman Catholic archbishop 30 years ago at the outset of the country's civil war.

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a human rights proponent who spoke out against repression by the Salvadoran army, was gunned down March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel.

Shortly before, Romero challenged soldiers from the pulpit to stop their repression in a famous address, declaring that "no soldier is obligated to obey a law against the law of God."

President Mauricio Funes said Romero was killed by right-wing death squads "who unfortunately acted with the protection, collaboration or participation of state agents."

"These illegal armed groups terrorized the civilian population during those dark years, leaving behind thousands of victims," Funes said, unveiling a mural commemorating Romero at the international airport outside the capital, San Salvador.

Nobody has been convicted for Romero's killing.

In 1993, a U.N.-sponsored truth commission determined that the assassination was ordered by a former army major and Maj. Roberto D'Abuisson, founder of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party. D'Abuisson had died the year before. But an amnesty law was passed shortly before those findings were made public.

The Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena, governed El Salvador from 1989 to 2009 and never accepted the results of the commission's investigation.

Funes, elected last year, said his government accepts that the investigation uncovered "the truth in the case of the assassination of Monsignor Romero."

Funes' leftist party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, is an outgrowth of the rebel movement that fought U.S.-backed right-wing governments for 12 years before laying down arms in 1992 and becoming a political party. The civil war caused more than 75,000 deaths.

Thousands of Salvadorans gathered Wednesday to remember and honor Romero at the church were he was killed.