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Explosions in Madrid; ETA suspected

The Basque separatist group ETA set off five bombs Friday at gasoline stations around Madrid, putting a stranglehold on the city at the start of a long holiday weekend and injuring two police officers.
/ Source: Reuters

The Basque separatist group ETA set off five bombs Friday at gasoline stations around Madrid, putting a stranglehold on the city at the start of a long holiday weekend.

Two police officers were slightly wounded, officials said.

The attacks came a day after six jailed former senior leaders of the group urged it to abandon violence, saying that after decades of bombings and shootings, it had finally been defeated by Spanish security forces. They also marked a significant return to violence after months of relative inactivity for ETA, which had been severely weakened by a police crackdown that netted more than 100 suspects this year.

They also dashed hopes of a Christmas truce after the guerrillas offered to enter talks with Spain — an offer that the mainstream political class roundly rejected.

“They want to send a message of ‘Here we are. We wanted to talk,’” said Gorka Knorr, a senior Basque politician.

Traffic snarled in capital
The blasts forced police to seal off major highways leading from the capital amid a massive exodus for a long holiday weekend. Highways were choked with traffic and bomb squads, and emergency services stood by in case they were needed.

“Five small artifacts have exploded. They were not powerful bombs. There is hardly any material damage,” an spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said.

But witnesses were impressed by the force of the blasts.

“I heard a very loud noise and saw smoke. ... If that’s a small explosion, my God,” a woman who had been washing her car at the station said on Telemadrid television.

Casualties were limited as the service stations had been evacuated in time. ETA warned of the attacks in a telephone call to the Basque newspaper Gara, a method it regularly uses to announce impending attacks.

History of violence
ETA has killed nearly 850 people since 1968 in a bombing and shooting campaign for an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.

But it has been relatively inactive since the train bombings — carried out by Islamic militants — killed 191 people March 11 in Madrid.

ETA has not carried out a fatal attack in 18 months amid a fierce police crackdown in Spain and France. Among those rounded up recently were the group’s top leadership in France.

Monday’s holiday celebrates the 1978 constitution, a source of pride to most Spaniards marking the return to democracy after the four-decade dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. But Basque radicals loathe the constitution for reconfirming that the three provinces of the Basque Country, home to some 2 million people, are part of Spain.