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ETA sets off 7 bombs across Spain, at least 5 hurt
Updated: 2004-12-07 09:13

The Basque separatist group ETA set off bombs in seven cities across Spain on Monday, slightly wounding five people and escalating their renewed fight for independence on the day Spaniards celebrate unity.

Spanish explosive experts inspect the scene of a small blast at a park in the northern Spanish town of Santillana del Mar, December 6, 2004.  [Reuters]

The outlawed group called in warnings minutes before the simultaneous blasts on Constitution Day to allow police to clear cafes and public squares.

It marked the second wave of attacks in three days, showing ETA was still capable of high-profile attacks despite more than 100 arrests this year including the capture of the group's leader in France two months ago.

Analysts interpret the weak potency of the bombs and the warning calls as ETA's message that it is still standing and wants to negotiate, although talks have been rejected by Spain's mainstream parties as a capitulation to "terrorists."

ETA-watchers also say the group apparently has decided not to risk even further public backlash by killing more people in the wake of the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, carried out by Islamic militants, when 191 people died.

The small bombs hit the cities of Alicante, Avila, Ciudad Real, Leon, Malaga, Santillana del Mar and Valladolid -- a corridor from the far north to south of Spain.

On Friday, coordinated ETA bombings at five Madrid service stations marked the first attack on the capital in two years and ETA's most significant strike following months of relative inactivity.

Monday's bombs slightly wounded at least five people, including a 7-year-old girl, as the country celebrated the anniversary of the 1978 constitution.

The constitution is widely cheered as the rebirth of Spanish democracy after the four-decade Franco dictatorship, but the document is bitterly opposed by ETA for enshrining the Basque region as part of Spain.

"Today is Spanish Constitution Day and it has to continue being Spanish Constitution Day, not ETA Day. ... ETA maintains operational capabilities and that's why we are on maximum alert," Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told a news conference.


ETA, Western Europe's most active armed militant group and listed as terrorist by the European Union, has killed nearly 850 people since 1968 in a bombing and shooting campaign for Basque independence from Spain and France.

But there have been no fatal attacks for 18 months amid a police crackdown that has resulted in more than 100 arrests this year, including the raid on ETA's leadership in France two months ago -- the harshest blow against ETA in 12 years.

Spain's top dignitaries were enjoying cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at a reception in parliament to mark Constitution Day when the bombs exploded.

None of Monday's blasts were within Spain's Basque Country, which is made up of three provinces in the north of Spain that Basque nationalists say are part of a greater Basque homeland including Navarre and three provinces in France.

One of the targeted cities, Leon, is the home town of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and another, Valladolid, that of his predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar.

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