Eta takes revenge after blast kills separatists

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The Independent Online

A Basque businessman who had criticised Eta guerrillas died in a car-bomb attack yesterday, the latest victim in Spain's bloody summer of separatist violence.

A Basque businessman who had criticised Eta guerrillas died in a car-bomb attack yesterday, the latest victim in Spain's bloody summer of separatist violence.

Jose Maria Korta's death, outside his family business in an industrial zone near San Sebastian, came after four Eta leaders died when their vehicle, loaded with arms and explosives, blew up in Bilbao on Monday night. Conservative politicians had expressed satisfaction at the guerrillas' deaths, speaking of "natural justice", but yesterday's carefully plotted execution froze such words upon their lips.

Mr Korta, a machine-tool manufacturer, was president of the employers' association of Guipuzcoa, the Basque province where Eta's roots are strongest. He was mortally wounded when he parked his Audi outside the Korta plant in Zumaia and a car parked near by and packed with explosives was blown up. He died soon afterwards.

Mariano Rajoy, the deputy Prime Minister, said: "The attack is yet another demonstration of what Spaniards have unfortunately become used to: barbarity, injustice and the lack of respect for life and liberty."

Mr Korta's murder is the eighth attributed to Eta separatists since the organisation ended a 14-month ceasefire in December. He is the first businessman to be killed since then - other victims were local politicians, and members of the armed forces - but Basque businessmen have long been targets for Eta hitmen.

They are regularly threatened if they fail to pay their "revolutionary tax" - money extorted with menaces, which Eta uses to buy arms and maintain an underground network. A few days before his death Mr Korta had condemned the damage that Eta was inflicting upon Basque businesses. The violence was preventing local entrepreneurs from devoting time to promoting Basque industry, he said.

Police in Bilbao were yesterday sifting the wreckage of the car that blew up on Monday night, laden with more than 30lb of explosives. The blast was so violent that they were having difficulty identifying the bodies of those blown to bits; initial reports suggested that only three people had been killed. The authorities believe all fourwho died were prominent Eta leaders.

In contrast to the complacent reaction from Madrid about the terrorists' deaths, Basque - and, unusually, Catalan - politicians regretted the further loss of life and called for dialogue. Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party government has firmly ruled out any talks.

Spaniards have braced themselves for an orgy of grief and protest vigils, with political leaders due to converge on San Sebastian for Mr Korta's funeral. The government insists its hardline measures are foiling still more deaths but, with attacks every few days, such claims are likely to produce little but mounting incredulity.

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