Policeman killed in ETA car bombing
Police and other members of the security forces are favourite targets for ETA.Arrigorriaga -- A bomb blast blamed by officials on the Basque separatist group ETA killed a Spanish policeman Friday, drawing widespread condemnation from politicians, trade unions and the Catholic Church.
A regional police spokesman named the victim as Eduardo Pulles Garcia, a 49-year-old inspector, whose car exploded when he started it in a parking lot in the Basque Country town of Arrigorriaga, near Bilbao.
A witness quoted by local media said the trapped officer pleaded for help as the flames engulfed him before he was overcome.
Patxi Lopez, the head of the regional Basque government, pointed the finger at ETA in remarks to the Basque parliament in Vitoria, where deputies observed a minute's silence.
"In these difficult and trying times, I wish to express to the family of the deceased policeman our affection and that of the majority of Basque society which no longer tolerates the murderous and dastardly ETA," he said.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was in Brussels for an EU summit, condemned what he called a cowardly attack and expressed his unshakeable determination to smash ETA.
"The perpetrators of this new atrocity will be punished with the full force of the law," he told reporters, adding that they should receive "the longest and toughest sentence possible."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for what would be the first deadly attack by ETA since December and its first action since regional elections on March 1 ousted a moderate nationalist Basque government in favour of the Socialists.
Arrogorriaga municipal authorities called a protest gathering later in the day while Lopez called for a mass demonstration for Saturday evening in the main Basque city of Bilbao.
The regional leader said protestors should "utter a new cry from the Basque Country against ETA and in favour of peace and freedom."
Lopez warned, "We are going to finish with them by applying all the force of the rule of law. They have shown us the way of grief, we will show them the way to prison."
Unlike his predecessor, Juan Jose Ibarretxe of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Lopez rejects any negotiations with ETA, blamed for the deaths of 825 people in its 40-year campaign to carve a Basque homeland out of northern Spain and southwestern France.
Considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, ETA said last month it was planning a new and "effective" strategy from this summer after a period of "reflection."
But there was no indication that it would abandon the use of violence.
ETA resumed attacks in mid-2007 after a 15-month truce following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with Madrid.
Since then Zapatero's government has taken a hard line against it, and repeatedly ruled out any new negotiations, while a string of operations by Spanish and French police have weakened ETA's leadership.
The head of the regional right-wing opposition, Antonio Basagoiti, assured Spain's ruling Socialists of conservative support to beat ETA, while condemnation of Friday's attack came from police unions, Basque business groups and the Church.
Police said that Puelles triggered a limpet mine fixed to the fuel tank of his car when he started the engine. The blast, at 9:05 am (0705 GMT), also set other vehicles in the parking lot on fire.
Media reports said the inspector's wife had been taken to hospital in a state of shock.
Police and other members of the security forces are favourite targets for ETA, though its last victim was a 71-year-old businessman shot dead at Azpeitia, near San Sebastian, on December 3.
Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, 71, was head of a company involved in the construction of a high-speed rail network in the region, a project opposed by ETA.