updated 3/7/2008 11:20:12 AM ET 2008-03-07T16:20:12

Both of Spain's major political parties called off all election campaigning nationwide Friday after a former city councilman was shot dead in the Basque region.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba blamed the killing on the Basque separatist group ETA. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The killing raised tensions two days before the general election, bringing an early end to rallies that were supposed to conclude at midnight. There would be no resumption of campaigning before the election, the ruling Socialist party said.

The former councilman Isaias Carrasco was shot in the Basque town of Arrasate, near San Sebastian, as he emerged from his home with his wife and daughter. The minister said Carrasco was shot several times from behind and died later after being rushed to a hospital.

"Early this afternoon ETA ... murdered Isaias Carrasco," Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference. "This is a vile and cowardly act which deserves our total rejection. A vile and cowardly act by a band of murderers who are never going to conquer the will of Spanish democracy."

Security has been tight in Spain ahead of Sunday's election over fears of an ETA attack.

It was not immediately clear what impact the killing would have on Sunday's election. A trio of opinion polls this week showed Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero with a 4 percentage point lead over conservative candidate Mariano Rajoy.

But opposition conservatives have hammered away at Zapatero for negotiating with ETA, saying he gave the group legitimacy just as it was at its weakest point after years of arrests and that he had betrayed the memory of people killed by the group.

Show of solidarity
Spain's last election in 2004 was held just days after a terror attack by Islamic militants on four Madrid commuter trains that killed 191 people and wounded some 1,800. The conservatives in power at the time blamed ETA even as evidence mounted that Islamic militants were involved. Many voters saw the government's response as a bid to dispel perceptions that Spain's support of the Iraq war had made the country a target for al-Qaida, and the conservatives lost the election.

Rajoy has tried to paint Zapatero as naive for trusting ETA, and dishonest for continuing to hold indirect talks with the separatist group even after it broke a cease-fire with a massive bombing at Madrid's airport on Dec. 30, 2006.

Zapatero and Rajoy were meeting at parliament later Friday in a show of solidarity following the killing.

Josefina Elias, president of Instituto Opina, one of Spain's main independent polling firms, said she did not believe the killing would have a big effect on the election results.

She said Spaniards are used to ETA attacks on the eve of an elections. There had been several warnings this time from the interior minister and the main parties did not appear to want to use the killing for political leverage.

"I think everything is going to remain as it is," Elias told AP.

Spanish media reported the lone gunman in Friday's attack got away, and police told the AP that they had launched an investigation.

Cease-fire?
ETA has killed more than 800 people in its decades-long struggle for autonomy.

The group has set off a series of small bombs in recent months in the Basque country and it killed two Spanish policemen just across the border in France on Dec. 1.

Zapatero was told of the shooting during an electoral rally in the southern city of Malaga. Television shots showed him grim-faced, saluting supporters moments later.

ETA declared what it called a permanent cease-fire in March 2006 and said it wanted a negotiated settlement to the long-running conflict.

But the group — classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States — grew frustrated with a lack of concessions in ensuing peace talks with the Socialist government.

ETA detonated a huge car bomb at a parking building of Madrid's Barajas airport in December 2006, killing two people. But the group insisted the deaths were unintended and that the cease-fire still held. It formally called off the truce in June 2007, and since then has staged more than a dozen mostly minor bombing attacks.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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