Spain comes out against Basque terror

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Spain's election campaign, already darkened by two political assassinations in two weeks by the Basque separatist organisation, Eta, was suspended yesterday while political leaders took part in a demonstration against terrorism called by all democratic parties in Madrid.

The Socialist Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, and the opposition Popular Party leader, Jose Maria Aznar, cancelled campaign meetings yesterday to join last night's demonstration, the most important since hundreds of thousands took to the streets against a Fascist coup attempt in February 1981.

Mounting popular revulsion against Eta terrorism has all but blown other issues off the agenda ahead of polls on 3 March. Both main leaders have been kicking off campaign speeches with reference to the killing last Wednesday of the former judge Francisco Tomas y Valente and of the Socialist lawyer Fernando Mugica a week earlier.

None the less, a suggestion by the Socialists on Friday that the pro- Eta Herri Batasuna (HB) party might be banned has been roundly condemned as playing into the terrorists' hands. Strenuous warnings from across the political spectrum that such a measure could backfire prompted the government to backtrack yesterday.

The Minister of Justice and Interior, Juan Alberto Belloch, denied seeking to ban HB, which usually wins some 15 per cent of the Basque vote. "The government does not want to illegalise HB. It is for the courts to consider whether an offence has been committed," he said yesterday. The government has asked the attorney general to rule if there are grounds to prosecute HB for having circulated an election video that appears to endorse Eta.

A Herri Batasuna leader, Jon Idigoras, faces questioning in court today about the offending video, which apparently shows three hooded men with pistols on the table in front of them, and carries pro-Eta slogans. Mr Idigoras could be charged with co-operation with an armed gang or illegal association.

The Socialist Party, trailing the PP in the polls by some nine points, is in a spot of bother over its own campaign video, which the PP has condemned as being worthy of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The Socialists stand by their video, which contains a montage of frightening right-wing images including a nuclear explosion, a snarling Doberman dog, puppet-strings and a distorted Mr Aznar.

But the PP machine has faltered too. A photo in yesterday's El Mundo newspaper of a street hoarding shows a huge poster with a smiling Mr Aznar alongside his slogan "With a New Majority" written in Catalan. But the photograph was taken in San Sebastian, in the Basque country.