Spanish police stage huge manhunt for suspected ETA bombers | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 31.07.2009
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Spanish police stage huge manhunt for suspected ETA bombers

A massive manhunt continues on the Spanish island of Mallorca as two suspected ETA bombings coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Basque separatist group. The blasts killed two policemen and injured dozens.

The funeral for the police officers killed on Mallorca was held on Friday. Pallbearers carry the coffin from the cathedral.

The funeral for the police officers killed on Mallorca was held on Friday.

On Friday, Spain's royal family and its prime minister attended a memorial service for two policemen killed in a car bombing on Mallorca blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA . The bomb went off under their patrol car outside a police barracks in the coastal town of Palmanova.

Police on the busy tourist island have launched a massive hunt for the killers, setting up roadblocks and carrying out extensive checks in seaports and at the airport.

Local radio reported police were seeking a Basque-speaking couple who were staying in a hotel room in the capital, Palma, but disappeared on Thursday afternoon.

Its believed the suspects could be hiding on the island waiting for the situation to calm down.

Spain's interior ministry meanwhile published photographs of six ETA members, who they suspect were involved in the group's current offensive, including the Mallorca attack.

50 years of ETA

ETA was formed on July 31 1959 by a group of left-wing students opposed to right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco, which banned the Basque language.

The militant group, campaigning for an independent Basque homeland, is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US. It has advocated armed struggle since its separatist campaign took a violent turn in 1968. Since then, it has been blamed for the deaths of around 830 people.

Thirty-six hours before the attack on Mallorca, a a suspected ETA car bombing in the northern city of Burgos severely damaged a police barracks and injured 60 people, including several children who were asleep at the time.

Tourism hit by terrorist acts

Tourists look at the smoke and flames coming from a car explosion in the Palmanova beach area, southwest of the island's capital, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Around 30,000 tourists were in the area of the bombing

Few had expected that the militant group would attack Mallorca, a crowded tourist island very popular with German and English people. Security officials considered the island to be an unlikely goal as terrorists would find it more difficult to escape than on the Spanish mainland.

But by targeting Mallorca, Spain is being hit where it really hurts - at the heart of its vitally important tourism industry.

The bomb went off in a neighborhood filled with hotels and cafeterias, just a few hundred meters from a crowded beach. An estimated 30,000 tourists were in the area at the time.

In the past, ETA has staged dozens of attacks in tourist resorts, but they have usually been minor. Tourists have sometimes been wounded, but never killed.

The Mallorca bombing, however, could deal at least a substantial blow to Spain's tourism industry at a time when it is already down by about 10 percent because of the general economic crisis in Europe.

Tourism makes up nearly 11 percent of Spain's gross domestic product (GDP) and provides employment to almost 2 million people.

Militant group at its weakest in 50 years

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero has urged police to intensify its fight against ETA

A half-century after ETA was created to defend Basque rights in the face of Franco's dictatorship, the group is perhaps weaker than ever before, with constant police crackdowns having left about 700 of its members in prison.

Although ETA has not officially admitted responsibility for the recent bombings, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero urged police to intensify its fight against the terrorist group.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba issued a statement saying: "ETA must know that we democrats are much stronger and will defeat the terror."

ch/nda/dpa/AFP/Reuters

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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