Crisis talks in Spain as Eta mourns its 'patriots'

Government reaffirms commitment to hardline measures after week of attacks leaves nation more divided than ever
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The Independent Online

Spain's political leaders held crisis talks on the Basque terrorist threat yesterday as Eta sympathisers took to the streets to honour four activists blown up on Monday while handling their own explosives.

Spain's political leaders held crisis talks on the Basque terrorist threat yesterday as Eta sympathisers took to the streets to honour four activists blown up on Monday while handling their own explosives.

Pro-Eta forces had called for street protests and the closure of shops and businesses throughout the Basque region. Although support was patchy in some small rural communities, there was genuine backing from among the roughly 15 per cent of Basques who vote for pro-Eta parties. Others complied with probable reluctance, fearing reprisals if the order were not observed.

Scuffles took place outside Pamplona town hall when Eta supporters disrupted a protest against the terrorism of recent days, and attempted to unfurl a banner calling for Basque prisoners to be brought home. Police hustled the separatists away and detained Juan Cruz Aldasoro, a member of the executive committee of the pro-Eta political grouping Euskal Herritarrok (Basques Together). Rival groups of demonstrators also clashed in Bilbao. Earlier yesterday, two buses were destroyed by fire in San Sebastian, and in Vitoria the apartment of a police chief was firebombed.

The so-called "day of struggle", which deepened the sense of fear throughout Spain, was called by the leader of Euskal Herritarrok, Arnaldo Otegi, who yesterday hailed the four men who died as "comrades" and "patriots" in the fight for a Basque homeland. His remarks prompted the state prosecutor in Bilbao to accuse Mr Otegi of making an apology for terrorism, a clear breach of the law.

The protest by pro-Eta forces coincided with the funeral in Aizoain near Pamplona of 2nd Lieutenant Francisco Casanova Vicente, who was shot in the head on Wednesday. The funeral of this ninth victim of separatist terrorism this year was attended by the Defence Minister, Federico Trillo, amid signs that the government - for all its brave front about not bowing to terrorist blackmail - has no response to the escalating campaign of violence.

Meanwhile, the Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, and the government's chief adviser on Basque matters, Javier Zarzalejos, met members of the opposition Socialist party to discuss a joint strategy against terrorism. The emergency meeting followed an approach by the recently elected socialist leader, Jose Luis Zapatero, who expressed his "enormous willingness" to cooperate.

Mr Mayor Oreja reaffirmed the need for calm and resolution in the face of mounting violence. He admitted these were "very hard times" but insisted the government would hold fast to its hardline strategy as the only course possible: "The only policy that Spain can adopt against terrorism is that which the government is carrying out, which means we must persevere and resist," he said.

Within the Basque country, there is growing concern that Madrid's intransigence is leading nowhere.

One Basque businessman close to Jose Maria Korta, the industrialist killed in a car-bomb attack on Tuesday, said yesterday: "The more difficult the situation is, the more the need for dialogue."

But with dialogue now apparently off the government's agenda, a harsher clampdown seems the only option, giving security forces greater freedom of action. This would polarise Basque opinion, and some fear that is exactly what Eta wants to provoke.

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