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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Eta crackdown urged on Zapatero

Financial Times: José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish prime minister, was under intense pressure on Monday to crack down heavily on Eta following a car bomb attack that ended a nine-month ceasefire and wrecked his government’s controversial efforts to broker peace with the Basque separatist group group.

Mariano Rajoy, head of the opposition Popular Party, called on Mr Zapatero to act with “prudence and a sense of realism”.

“The response to the attack cannot be simply to suspend a process that never should have begun in the first place,” he said.

The Association of Victims of Terrorism said the prime minister should “apologise to the Spanish people” for allegedly allowing Eta the opportunity to regroup.

The calls came as Spanish police on Monday scoured the rubble left by Saturday’s car bomb attack on Madrid’s Barajas airport. Two Ecuadorian men were missing, believed dead, after an estimated 500kg of dynamite destroyed a multi-storey car park. The deaths, if confirmed, would mark the first fatalities caused by Eta in three and a half years.

Mr Zapatero’s critics seized on the government’s complete surprise at the bombing as evidence of his naivety in dealing with Eta. Less than 24 hours before the bombing, the prime minister voiced optimism about the peace process he launched in June.

The government held secret talks in December with Eta leaders and came away confident that the ceasefire would hold.

“Eta knew how to play with what can only be described as an unfathomably stupid government,” Carlos Martinez Gorriaran, head of a terrorist victims’ support group, wrote.

Analysts predicted that the government, which suspended the peace process on Saturday, would begin a sweep against Eta operatives and sympathisers. French authorities might also step up activity against the group, which claims France’s Basque-speaking regions as part of a separate homeland.

“I would expect significant arrests in the next few weeks, in an attempt to restore people’s confidence in the government’s willingness and ability to apply the law,” said Charles Powell, history professor at the San Pablo CEU university in Madrid.

Mr Zapatero also needs to mend fences with France, where security officials have insisted Eta remained active despite the ceasefire. Eta members stole the van used in Saturday’s bombing in southern France and in October carried off a heist of 350 firearms there.

Analysts believe Mr Zapatero is unlikely to declare the peace process over as this would represent a victory for his right-wing opponents. Instead the prime minister may now invoke the ups and downs of the Northern Ireland peace process as a precedent for keeping negotiations alive.

But analysts said it was unlikely Eta and its outlawed political wing, Batasuna, could offer the kind of guarantees needed to justify resuming talks.
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