Eta disrupts 'democracy fiesta' with seven bombs

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Seven bombs claimed by Eta, the militant Basque separatists, exploded in towns across Spain from north to south yesterday, disrupting the annual holiday that celebrates the post-Franco constitution.

The Interior Minister, Juan Antonio Alonso, said yesterday that security services were prepared for further attacks up to and including Christmas holiday period. "The attacks must not affect the normal life of Basques or Spaniards, but they show Eta still has operational capacity, so we remain on maximum alert," Mr Alonso said.

Police received detailed warnings in time to cordon off and evacuate the seven targeted areas, so the bombs caused minor damage and few injuries.

A total 18 people were affected by flying debris or the sound of the lunchtime explosions. Targets included popular haunts packed with people enjoying one of Spain's most important secular holidays, considered the fiesta of Spanish democracy. Eta also claimed responsibility for five small explosions in petrol stations around Madrid on Friday.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Prime Minister, was told of the attacks as he was presiding over celebrations in parliament of Constitution Day, the first since his socialist government was elected in March. "Eta's only fate is to lay down arms, and I hope that comes very soon," Mr Zapatero said.

Security services feared a show of strength by Eta on this long holiday weekend, and had scoured dustbins, stations and waste ground nationwide. The only bomb to be found before it exploded was one discovered by chance on Saturday in the Mediterranean resort of Almeria. It was primed to go off yesterday.

Eta militants did not seek to cause serious damage. These were small, propaganda bombs. That was clear from the two explicit warnings given to the pro-separatist Basque newspaper Gara 20 minutes before the blasts. The callers identified themselves as Eta spokesmen and warned that bombs would explode in specific locations in Santillana del Mar on the northern coast, Avila, Valladolid, Leon, Cuidad Real, Alicante and Malaga. The last two are popular Mediterranean resorts.

Madrid, where blasts paralysed holiday traffic on Friday, was spared, as was the Basque country. Catalunya, whose left-wing regional government includes Catalan separatists and where Eta has declared a truce, was also unaffected.

Many of yesterday's targets were streets or squares named after Spain, or other symbols of what separatists callEspañolismo, and had been carefully chosen for their political significance. Eta, striking on the anniversary of the day the Basque country was declared part of post-Franco Spain in a constitution most Basques rejected, showed its ability to operate when and where it liked with maximum impact.

Eta's low-intensity terror campaign is seen as designed to heighten pressure on Mr Zapatero's government to unban the Batasuna party, which is widely considered Eta's political wing.

Batasuna's leader, Arnaldo Otegi, is the only political figure in Spain who failed to condemn the weekend bombings, earning the revulsion of all but his own sympathisers.