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Saturday, December 30, 2006

ETA car bomb breaks cease-fire in Spain

MADRID (Reuters) - A car bomb wrecked a car park at Madrid's international airport on Saturday, injuring at least 19 people in an attack the government said smashed a nine-month-old cease-fire by ETA Basque guerrillas.

One person was still missing after the explosion which brought down several concrete floors of the multi-storey car park at about 9 a.m. (8 a.m. British time), an hour after the first of three telephone warnings of an attack at Barajas Airport's ultra-modern Terminal Four, officials said.

The attack took place on a day Barajas was crowded with holiday season travellers.

"I want to firmly condemn this attack, the attack ends nine months without ETA violence, it breaks ETA's permanent cease-fire," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference.

He did not say whether it meant the end of a peace process started by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in June to end ETA's four-decade armed struggle for independence of the Basque Country in which the group killed over 800 people.

An end to the peace process would be a major blow to Zapatero, a Socialist.

Rescue workers were still searching for a man who had driven to the terminal to pick up a passenger. If the man is found dead, it would be the first time ETA has killed in more than three years.

There were minor injuries to at least 19 people including two police officers and a taxi driver, emergency services said, adding that another seven people had been attended for panic and psychological reactions.


There was chaos at Terminal Four, which police did not evacuate until after it filled with smoke from the explosion.

"There were people running all over the place and no police in sight. Then somebody said 'there's another bomb', so everyone turned and ran in the other direction," said Rene Chica, who had been waiting in the arrivals hall for a relative from Colombia.

"I was knocked over by the force of the explosion. The windows were all shattered and there was smoke and dust everywhere," his sister-in-law, Sandra Ceron, told Reuters.

Officials received three telephoned warnings about a bomb in a purple Renault Traffic van in the hour before the explosion, one of them claiming responsibility for ETA.

Police cordoned off the carpark area before the bomb blew up, sending a huge pall of smoke over the airport terminal.

Stranded passengers were hurried out on to the airport runway, together with their luggage. Terminal Four suspended all flights for several hours.

Several Saturday newspapers, printed before the blast had front page stories about Zapatero saying he was optimistic about the talks, which have been criticised by the opposition.

Conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy said the blast showed ETA had no interest in peace. "I call on the government to break off contacts with these terrorists," he said.

ETA said in November it would break off contacts with the authorities unless there was quick progress in separate talks among political parties in the Basque Country over the region's future.

But these talks were bogged down over issues including the continued ban on ETA's political party ally Batasuna and vandalism and low-level political violence by ETA supporters in the Basque Country.

Spanish media reports said ETA had also demanded the government move ETA prisoners closer to their homes and ease police pressure on the group's members still in liberty.
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