Thousands march to condemn killing blamed on ETA

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Spanish politicians and grieving relatives led tens of thousands in a march to condemn the killing of the head of an anti-terror unit.

Bilbao – Spanish politicians and grieving relatives led tens of thousands in a march Saturday to condemn the killing of the head of an anti-terror unit in an attack by suspected Basque separatists.

Eduardo Pulles Garcia, a 49-year-old inspector, died on Friday after his car exploded in a parking lot in the Basque town of Arrigorriaga, near the city of Bilbao.

A witness quoted by local media said the trapped officer pleaded for help as the flames engulfed him.

Garcia, "killed for defending the freedom of the Basques, was one of us," the head of the regional Basque government, Patxi Lopez, said a speech at the end of the march through Bilbao.

"We have taken to the streets... to confront ETA and say that we are ready to defeat terrorism... We will never give in to their blackmail," he said to applause from the crowd.

In an emotional speech, the officer's widow, Francisca Hernandez, warned ETA that the killing would not further its aims.

"All they have achieved is to create a widow and two orphans, they will not achieve any more than that, because thanks to God there are many people like my husband," she said.

Garcia's family and those of other ETA victims led the march through Bilbao carrying a huge banner reading "For Freedom, ETA No."

Behind them were Lopez and other Basque political leaders, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. Also taking part was French ambassador Bruno Delaye.

Silent vigils were also held in several Spanish towns and cities Saturday morning.

Earlier Lopez, de la Vega, Rubalcaba and Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia attended the officer's funeral.

The coffin, partially draped in a Spanish flag, was carried amid applause by members of the Spanish and Basque regional security forces from his police station, where a service was held, to Bilbao's San Jose church for the funeral.

The officer's widow, two children and other relatives walked behind them with hundreds of people lining streets adjacent to the packed chapel.

Media reports said the officer had participated in operations leading to the arrest of 70 ETA members or associates.

Lopez pointed the finger at ETA in remarks to the Basque parliament in Vitoria on Friday, where deputies observed a minute's silence.

ETA, considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, is blamed for the deaths of 825 people in its 40-year campaign to carve a Basque homeland out of northern Spain and southwestern France.

In mid-2007 it called off a 15-month-old ceasefire following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with Madrid.

Since then the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero 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.

ETA said last month it was planning a new and "effective" strategy from this summer after a period of "reflection."

Six hooded people set a bus ablaze in the Basque city of San Sebastian early Saturday after ordering the passengers out of the vehicle, the regional interior ministry said.

AFP / Expatica

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