Anti-Eta writer gunned down in Basque town

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The Independent Online

Gunmen killed the veteran Spanish journalist and left-wing campaigner Jose Luis Lopez de la Calle outside his home in the Basque town of Andaoin yesterday with a fusillade of bullets to the head and chest.

It was the first fatality in a terror campaign directed at journalists in recent months by Eta, the Basque separatist group, and the fourth killing blamed on Eta since it ended a 14-month ceasefire last December. Mr Lopez de la Calle, 63, a contributor to the Basque edition of El Mundo, was ambushed in the doorway of his apartment block just after 10am as he returned from buying newspapers and having a coffee in the café opposite, as he did every Sunday morning. He fell, fatally injured, his umbrella lying open on the street beside him. He died within minutes, despite efforts of paramedics who were alerted by a neighbour and arrived quickly.

All political parties except the pro-ETA Herri Batasuna party condemned the attack. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, flew to Andaoin to give their condolences to Mr Lopez de la Calle's family. He leaves a wife and two adult children.

Mr Lopez de la Calle was a prominent campaigner against Eta, a life-long left-winger and a former Communist Party member who was imprisoned during Franco's dictatorship for helping to set up the illegal Workers' Commissions trade union federation. In his youth he had contributed to publications linked to Eta.

But in recent years he actively campaigned against Eta violence, both in his weekly El Mundo column, and in the pacifist Ermua Forum, a group of artists, writers and politicians that he co-founded in response to Eta's murder of a young conservative councillor in 1997.

Mr Lopez de la Calle knew he was in Eta's sights but refused to have a bodyguard. His name had been scrawled on the walls of his town and three months ago four firebombs were thrown at his house. The missiles set fire to his balcony but did not explode. Interviewed then, Mr Lopez de la Calle said threats did not frighten him. "If five years in Franco's jails didn't silence me, I'm not going to submit to Eta," he said. "I feel an ethical necessity to fight for freedom."

In January, a car bomb killed Lieutentant-Colonel Pedro Blanco in Madrid and a month later a car bomb killed the regional socialist leader Fernando Buesa and his bodyguard in Vitoria.

In recent months, journalists have been subject to attacks. In March the radio journalist Carlos Herrera was sent a box of cigars packed with dynamite. Last month Jesus Maria Zuloaga, a specialist in terrorist matters on La Razon, was sent a parcel bomb.Last week the home of the parents of Pedro Briongos, the editor of the Bilbao newspaper El Correo, was set alight.