ETA marks 50 years of terrorism

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Less attacks per year, lost of support among Basques; is the Basque separatist group at a dead end? Or will the recent surge in violence marks the start of another era?

The armed Basque separatist group ETA, which marked its 50th anniversary Friday, is a shadow of its former self following a crackdown in Spain and France, analysts say, predicting a further decline.

The group allegedly staged its latest attack on Thursday, killing two police officers when the bomb detonated under their patrol car outside a barracks in the coastal town of Palmanova near Palma.

Police also found a second bomb in Majorca later on Thursday under another police car at a separate nearby barracks and carried out a controlled explosion.
Investigators looking beside the wreckage of a car in Palmanova,
in the Balearic Island of Mallorca. At least two policemen were killed by a car bomb at a Civil Guard barracks on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
A day earlier, a massive car bomb exploding outside a police barracks in Burgos in northern Spain, leaving 64 people lightly injured.

More deadly attacks in the 1980s
But while the group managed to kill nearly 100 people annually in the 1980s, "now it is five or six attacks per year to say that they exist," said Basque journalist and ETA expert Gorka Landaburu.

"ETA is at a dead end. Their only path is to dissolve or negotiate with the government. But time is against them," he said, adding there were around 600 jailed ETA members in Spain and another 150 in neighbouring France.

The group was formed on 31 July 1959 by a group of left-wing nationalist students opposed to General Francisco Franco's right-wing dictatorship, which suppressed the Basque language.

It initially sought to reach its goals through political means but within a decade resorted to violence, mostly shootings and bombings.

The group's first planned killing took place on 2 August 1968 with the shooting of a policeman.

It has since killed over 820 people in Spain as part of its campaign for an independent Basque homeland encompassing parts of northern Spain and southwest France.

Its deadliest attack took place in July 1987 when a car bomb left in the parking lot of a Barcelona supermarket killed 21 people and injured 45 others.

The group has also attempted to kill Spanish King Juan Carlos and former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Great weakness now among ETA
But Florencio Dominguez, the editor-in-chief of the Basque news agency Vasco Press, who was written several books on Basque issues, said ETA's situation today "reflects great weakness".
People in Madrid holding banners that read "No to ETA" as they
observe a moment of silence for the two civil guards killed in
a bomb attack on the resort island of Majorca.
"They carry out less and less fatal attacks and are facing a very conclusive police persecution. ETA will become progressively weaker. It will break up and become a group of bandits, a mafia group," he said

In mid-2007 ETA called off a 15-month-old ceasefire following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with the Spain's central government in Madrid.

Since then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has taken a hard line, repeatedly ruling out new negotiations while a string of operations by Spanish and French police have weakened ETA's leadership.

The outfit also appears to be losing support among Basques.

Aralar, a new leftist Basque party, boosted the number of seats it has in the Basque regional parliament from one to four in regional elections earlier this year in which ETA's banned political wing Batasuna was banned.

"These are signs which provide reason for hope. Hopefully they will continue increasing," said Antonio Alonso, a professor of International Relations at Spain's CEU San Pablo University, who also predicted ETA's demise.

"It is becoming more of a criminal group and less of the military frontline of a wider social movement," he added.

ETA , which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, finances itself by extorting cash from businesses in the wealthy, industrialised Basque region.

Jailed members of ETA in Spain are increasingly questioning the usefulness of armed struggle, two Basque newspapers reported recently quoting a police document, which analysts point to as a sign of a growing divide in the group.

On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia and other political leaders paid their respects to the officers slain in Thursday's attack as they attended a funeral service in Majorca.

The two deceased officers Carlos Saenz de Tejada Garcia, 28, and Diego Salva Lesaun, 27 were awarded with the Gold Cross of Merit as their family members, some of them in tears, looked on.

Their deaths, blamed by the government on ETA, bring the death toll from ETA's campaign to 828.

3 August 2009

Elisa Santafe and Pierre Ausseill / AFP / Expatica

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