French police capture ETA suspects after shootouts

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French police on Sunday arrested two suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA after a pair of shoot-outs on country roads that left one gendarme wounded.

A massive manhunt involving 300 para-military police, a special operations unit and tracker dogs was launched Saturday after the couple's car sped through a police checkpoint in the Creuse region of central France, police said.

The male passenger of the car fired four shots when police gave chase, hitting one gendarme in the collarbone. The pair later abandoned their car and made off on foot.

When a police team caught up with them on Sunday morning there was another exchange of fire but no-one was injured, police said. The pair were arrested and taken to be interrogated by anti-terrorist officers.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people in its four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to force the creation of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Traditionally, ETA used France as a safe rear-base for attacks on Spain, but in recent years the two EU allies have strengthened cross-border police cooperation and cracked down hard on the group.

ETA in January declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" but Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the declaration, saying he wanted nothing less than ETA's dissolution.

© 2011 AFP

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