Leaders gather for Mass for slain judge

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Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, cabinet ministers and judicial and military leaders have gathered in Madrid for the funeral Mass of a judge and his chauffeur, two of three people killed in the latest brutal bomb attack blamed on the Basque gunmen.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, cabinet ministers and judicial and military leaders have gathered in Madrid for the funeral Mass of a judge and his chauffeur, two of three people killed in the latest brutal bomb attack blamed on the Basque gunmen.

The Mass, said by Madrid Archbishop Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, was held in a chamber of the Supreme Court where Judge Franciso Querol worked and from which he was due to retire next month on his 70th birthday.

Querol, his driver Armando Medina Sanchez and police bodyguard Jesus Escudero Garcia were killed outright when a car bomb exploded as their vehicle travelled through a busy Madrid residential area.

On Tuesday, 12 of the 34 people injured in the attack remained in Madrid hospitals with one man, a municipal bus driver, still in serious condition.

Although no group claimed responsibility for the attack, politicians and police immediately blamed the Basque separatist group ETA. The group has repeatedly used car bombs as part of its 32-year-old campaign for an independent Basque homeland in an area straddling northern Spain and southwest France.

"ETA is not looking to convince. On the contrary, recognizing its inability to do so, it seeks to impose its will by force," the leading Spanish daily El Pais said Tuesday in an editorial.

The attack was condemned by political parties across Spain with the exception of the Basque independence group linked to ETA, Euskal Herritarrok, which said the bomb was further evidence that negotiations were imperative to solve the region's conflict.

Aznar, however, urged Spaniards not to despair over ETA's continuing violence and vowed to stand firm in his policy of combatting the group through police measures, ruling out talks.

"It is clear that no one will achieve any kind of objective through the force of violence, and that no one will make Spaniards yield to threats of guns, whoever may be holding them," said Aznar, who survived an ETA assassination attempt in 1995.

At Tuesday's Mass, relatives of the victims were joined by Aznar, Justice Minister Angel Acebes and Defense Minister Federico Trillo, a close friend of the slain magistrate. Also present were the head of the Supreme Court Javier Delgado and representatives of the Armed Forces.

Querol and Medina were to be buried in Madrid while Escudero's funeral service was to be held in the southern city of Granada.

Thousands of people gathered in town and cities throughout Spain on Monday evening and were to do so again Tuesday, with a major demonstration planned for Madrid at 7 p.m. (1800 gmt), to protest the killings.

In recent years, anti-ETA demonstrations have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of Spaniards onto the streets to express their condemnation.

Also Tuesday, five-minute work stoppages were to be held in work places across the country at midday.

Monday's attack was the deadliest attributed to ETA since the organization ended a 14-month unilateral cease-fire last December. With Monday's attack, it is now blamed for 19 killings in 10 months, six in October alone.

ETA has claimed the killing of some 800 people in all. The group usually admits responsibility for its attacks weeks later in communiques to pro-independence Basque media.

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