Car bomb injures 39 in Madrid

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The Independent Online

A powerful car bomb exploded in Madrid today following a telephone warning from a caller claiming to represent the armed Basque separatist group ETA, injuring at least 39 people, officials said.

A powerful car bomb exploded in Madrid today following a telephone warning from a caller claiming to represent the armed Basque separatist group ETA, injuring at least 39 people, officials said.

The explosion came hours after at least 14 suspected members of ETA were arrested in several Spanish cities, and a week after Spain's Parliament rejected a plan to give the region autonomy bordering on independence.

The bomb exploded shortly after 9.30am near Ifema, a sprawling convention centre where King Juan Carlos was to inaugurate a major art show later in the day, an Interior Ministry official said. He was to have been accompanied by President Vicente Fox of Mexico. The Royal Palace said the ceremony was still on for the evening.

The bomb exploded outside a building housing the French computer manufacturer Bull, the official said.

"The explosion was intense. The smoke rose five stories high," witness Felipe Alcaraz told CNN+ television.

Thirty-nine people suffered bruises, cuts from flying glass and damaged eardrums, said Javier Ayuso, a spokesman for the Madrid emergency medical service. No one was seriously hurt, he said.

Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said early estimates are that the car bomb contained 20-30 kilos of explosives.

The telephone warning was received by the Basque newspaper Gara, which often serves as a mouthpiece for ETA.

Television footage showed a column of white smoke rising from the site of the blast.

A week ago, parliament overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to give the Basque region autonomy.

The regional president, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, responded by calling early elections for April 17 in an apparent bid to capitalize quickly on Basque nationalists' anger over the rejection.

The party seen as ETA's political wing, Batasuna, was outlawed in 2003 and Spanish officials insisted last week that it will not be allowed to field candidates in the election.

ETA detonated a small bomb in a Mediterranean resort hotel on January 30, two days before the vote in Parliament that rejected the plan for broader autonomy. One person was slightly injured.

The group is blamed for more than 800 deaths since the late 1960s in a campaign of bombings and shootings aimed at creating an independent Basque homeland in land straddling northern Spain and southwest France.

ETA carried out a string of small bombings in northern resort towns over the summer. It also detonated seven bombs around Spain on December 6 - the anniversary of Spain's 1978 constitution that set up the system of regional autonomy that ETA abhors as insufficient.

On January 18 ETA also detonated a bomb in Getxo, an affluent town near the main Basque city, Bilbao.

That blast dashed growing speculation in Madrid and the Basque region itself that ETA might be close to calling a cease-fire. ETA called a truce in 1998 but reverted to violence 14 months later after a lone round of peace talks with the government went nowhere.

ETA is widely believed to have been smashed after more than 200 arrests over the past two years. Senior jailed ex-members in October called publicly for the group to give up, and the now-rejected proposal from the Basque regional parliament to make the region virtually independent is contingent on the absence of ETA violence. That plan was backed by Batasuna.

Days before the Getxo blast ETA had issued a statement appealing to the Spanish government to start peace talks with Batasuna. But the statement made no mention of ETA laying down its weapons, the government's condition for undertaking such talks.

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