Murder shames and angers the Basques

Elizabeth Nash in Ermua finds a village united by grief over Eta's killing of a young councillor
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The Independent Online
Heavy clouds hung over the Basque dormitory village of Ermua yesterday, where locals, stricken by the murder of a young conservative councillor by Eta gunmen, walked like zombies in a travesty of their habitual Sunday- morning stroll.

The grim-faced men who held radios pressed to their ear were not this time tuned in to the sport, but to news of when the body of Miguel Angel Blanco would be brought from San Sebastian, where he died of head wounds in the early hours. Only some children, including a couple of little girls with black ribbons in their hair, played in the main square as they do every Sunday.

An elderly lady solemnly watered the geraniums on her balcony. From its iron railings, and from countless little balconies on workers' flats throughout the town, flapped a white sheet draped with black.

Mr Blanco, 29, kidnapped by Eta on Thursday, was found unconscious in a wood on Saturday afternoon with his hands tied and two bullets in his head. He died within hours. He was from a working-class family, originally from the north-west region of Galicia. He was one of many who had sought a better life in the prosperous Basque country.

Maria Luisa Mandiola, 41, stood outside the town hall where the Spanish and the red-white-and-green Basque flag flew at half-mast; she still remembered the cheerful young man who used to play drums in a local band: "They used to play at weddings. I went to the last one just a few weeks ago. The next wedding was to be his own, to his girlfriend Marimar." Villagers yesterday swapped their blue ribbons of solidarity for black ones. Pasted on walls and shop windows were posters from the day before: "Miguel, your comrades are waiting for you."

Hundreds of faxes, telegrams and e-mails of sympathy, including one from the Pope, were strung along the walls of the town hall in lines three deep, fluttering like pale mournful bunting.

Some were from town halls throughout Spain, others from individuals. One began "I am an ordinary girl from Barcelona." One was a hand-written poem. An old woman, for whom this was just above eye-level, touched my arm and asked me to read it out. "I can't bear to see a mother's grief, the tears drying on a father's cheek," I began. She turned away. "I'm crying inside," she said. "All our hundreds of thousands, all our big demonstrations, they didn't do any good."

None the less, Spain has been thrown into a state of rolling demonstrations, involving an unprecedented mobilisation of what seems like the entire people. All eyes are now on this unprepossessing village where Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister, is to attend the funeral today.

In Pamplona, the celebrated San Fermin fiesta came to a halt at the weekend when youngsters who had spent the week running the bulls through the streets tied their scarlet neckerchiefs to the town hall's railings in mourning.

In a rare public display of Eta sympathies, the scarves were set alight, prompting fierce clashes early yesterday morning that were broken up by police. Eighteen people were treated in hospital for injuries.

Political leaders are holding emergency meetings, but their actions have so far advanced little beyond hand-wringing and appeals for peaceful anti- Eta demonstrations. The Basque regional leader, Jose Antonio Ardanza, expressed the widespread feeling of impotence and frustration: "Eta has laughed at the grief of a defenceless family and all the people," he said. Another leader spoke of "Eta's suicide." But the organisation has shown before that whatever the level of public support, its infrastructure remains intact and defies ever greater police efforts to destroy it.