Basque protests express grief and anger

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The Independent Online

Shopkeepers pulled down the shutters early yesterday in Bilbao, the Basque port city regenerated by Frank Gehry's swooping aluminium-clad Guggenheim museum, to join a silent march across the rainswept streets.

Tens of thousands of protesters, many with bowed heads and sporting black ribbons, filed silently through the twilight streets as Basques came out en masse to condemn Spain's worst terror attack. In the neighbouring northern cities of San Sebastian and Vitoria, the political capital, bus and train services stopped as local people expressed anger and condemnation at the rush-hour train blasts that killed 199 people in Madrid on Thursday.

The solemn demonstrations - which came as the Spanish government sought to determine whether Eta, the Basque separatist militant group, or al-Qai'da were responsible - were in towns across the rugged hill region, where Eta has waged an armed campaign to achieve sovereignty since the late 1960s.

"We are all still waiting to see who is responsible for the attacks," Javier Fernandez, a journalist with the Bilbao-based Deia newspaper told The Independent. "But 99 per cent of the people in the Basque country reject the attacks and stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of the blasts." He said support for the silent protests had been "massive". The newspaper appeared with a black border yesterday.