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ETA blamed for pre-poll bomb

A firemen walks past a damaged building at the scene of the car bomb explosion in central Madrid
A fireman walks past a damaged building at the scene of the explosion in central Madrid  

MADRID, Spain -- The Basque separatist group ETA is being blamed for a car bombing in Madrid that injured at least 13 people.

An anonymous caller in the name of ETA warned authorities eight minutes before the blast, Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said.

The blast came almost on the stroke of midnight on Friday -- when campaigning ended for Sunday's elections in the Basque region.

Polls show the vote could oust the ruling Basque nationalist party, which favours independence, from power in the regional government.

The bomb went off in one of the Spanish capital's busiest roads, Goya Street. "It could have been a massacre," Reuters quoted Rajoy as saying.

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A bank security guard was the only seriously hurt victim, but his wounds were not life-threatening, and all other injuries were minor, emergency services officials said.

The blast ruined the facade of a nearby bank, shattered windows in the area and left wreckage from the car littering the street.

"The buildings shook, I thought they were going to fall down," a witness told Reuters.

The bomb went off outside a branch office of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, one of Spain's biggest banks which is based in the Basque region.

"This is the ... expression of the greatest of failures, of Nazism, of the totalitarian fascism of ETA ... that cannot impose itself on our society and which of course will be defeated at the ballot boxes," a Basque PP official told Basque radio.

An unidentified man is helped into an ambulance
An unidentified man is helped into an ambulance  

The elections have been dominated by ETA's campaign of bloodshed. The group has claimed 29 killings since ending a ceasefire in December 1999 and was blamed for the fatal shooting last Sunday of a senator from Spain's ruling Popular Party (PP).

Officials said the latest attack was intended to intimidate Basque voters and to press ETA's strategy of creating a climate of fear throughout Spain.

Madrid's mayor, Jose Maria Alvarez del Manzano, urged Basques to "remain calm and do your democratic duty," Reuters reported.

ETA has been blamed for about 800 deaths since 1968, when it launched its violent campaign for an independent state in the Basque-speaking areas of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Candidates standing in Sunday's elections are deeply divided on how to tackle ETA. Mainstream nationalists, who favour moves towards independence but oppose ETA's violence, propose dialogue.

But the Madrid-based parties refuse to consider any concessions and accuse the nationalists of cosying up to ETA's political allies.

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Socialist Party
Basque Nationalist Party
Humanist Party of the Basque Country
Popular Party

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