Army officer slain as Basque conflict heats up

MADRID, Spain - Basque gunmen shot and killed a Spanish army officer Wednesday, authorities said, less than 24 hours after car bombs blamed on the separatists killed one person and injured 11.

The latest victim, 2nd Lt. Francisco Casanova Vicente, was shot twice in the back of the head as he drove into the garage of his house on the outskirts of the northern city of Pamplona, according to local Interior Ministry official Miguel Angel Baron. Casanova's 11-year-old son reportedly found the body.

No group claimed responsibility for the shooting, but Defense Ministry officials in Pamplona attributed the attack to the Basque group ETA. The shooting followed a spate of attacks blamed on the organization.

On Tuesday, Basque business federation leader Jose Maria Korta was killed when a car bomb exploded outside his factory in the Basque town of Zumaia. ETA has frequently targeted the region's business sector with shootings and extortion threats.

Hours later, 11 people were injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential area of the Spanish capital.

On Monday, a car laden with 55 pounds of explosives blew up in the Basque city of Bilbao in northern Spain, killing four suspected ETA terrorists.

Euskal Herritarrok, a party closely linked to ETA, expressed its regret Wednesday to Casanova's family but called for talks, not condemnations, to resolve the conflict.

If ETA's responsibility in Wednesday's shooting is confirmed, the soldier will be the organization's ninth victim since it ended a 14-month truce in December. Casanova, 47, was married with two children, a seven-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy.

ETA normally claims responsibility for its attacks weeks later.

Also Wednesday, thousands of people took part in five-minute silent protests outside city halls across the country in condemnation of Tuesday's attacks.

A single round of talks between ETA and the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar during the truce last year proved fruitless. ETA insisted on negotiating independence while the government would only discuss disarmament.

Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja said the renewed violence was aimed at forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in the Basque region ''to bring the conflict to a head.''

ETA, whose initials are a Basque language acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, is blamed for nearly 800 deaths since 1968 in a campaign to create an independent state.


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