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Small bombs set off across Spain

/ Source: The Associated Press

Small bombs exploded Monday in seven cities around Spain after telephone warnings from callers claiming to speak on behalf of the armed Basque separatist group ETA, the Interior Ministry said.

At least 18 people were slightly injured in the nearly simultaneous blasts in Valladolid, Leon and Santillana del Mar in the north, Avila and Ciudad Real in central Spain, Alicante in the east, and Malaga in the south.

The blasts followed two telephone warnings to the Basque newspaper Gara from callers claiming to represent ETA that said bombs had been placed in seven cities throughout the country.

Before the blasts, the Interior Ministry had said the seven sites targeted — mainly streets and plazas — had been evacuated and cordoned off. In at least two instances, however, the explosions struck in places other than where the callers had indicated.

Such was the case of Santillana del Mar, a popular tourist town on Spain’s northern coast, where 15 people were hurt by flying shards of glass or chunks of wood when an explosion destroyed a tourist information booth in a park. Those injured included a 7-year-old girl and her mother, officials said.

Three people were injured in Ciudad Real as the bomb went off while authorities were evacuating a coffee shop.

One Basque analyst said the blasts — small and apparently calculated to avoid loss of life — showed the political constraints ETA faces after the Madrid terror bombings by suspected Muslim militants, and the ensuing nationwide revulsion over terrorism, even among Basque nationalists who back ETA’s goal if not its methods.

“ETA wants to sow fear. It wants to draw attention, but cannot afford to kill people. That’s why they set off bombs the size of a bar of chocolate,” said former ETA member Teo Uriarte, who now leads an association working for peace in the region.

Analysts in the Basque region say the group is deeply divided among newer, young members eager to keep fighting and older leaders more inclined to negotiate an end to the conflict or simply give up.

Batasuna, a banned party seen as ETA’s political wing, last month proposed a new formula for peace talks with the government, raising hopes that ETA might be prepared to end its armed struggle. But days later, ETA issued a statement pledging to continue attacks against Spanish security forces.

Five small bombs exploded Friday evening in Madrid after a similar call to Gara from a person claiming to speak for ETA. Damage was minor and two police officers were lightly injured. Gara often serves as a mouthpiece for ETA.

Another small bomb was defused Saturday in the southern city of Almeria.

Spanish security forces were on alert Monday, a public holiday marking the 26th anniversary of the passage of the Spanish constitution. The document laid the groundwork for Spain’s system of granting broad autonomy to regions such as the northern Basque country. ETA wants outright independence for the region and has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades-old campaign of violence.

In several of Monday’s blasts, the targets were streets or plazas named after Spain itself, such as Avenida de Espana or Plaza de Espana.