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ETA claims 15 attacks

MADRID, Spain -- The Basque separatist group ETA has claimed responsibility for six killings in fifteen attacks since January.

Two police officers, two electrical workers, a local politician and a cook were killed in the attacks which authorities had already blamed on the group.

The group also warned tourists to stay away from Spain after it planted two car bombs in beach resort towns earlier this month.

Following the ETA statement, published in the Basque newspaper Gara on Friday, the group has now claimed responsibility for 29 killings since it called off a ceasefire in December 1999.

A car bomb exploded in the coastal town of Rosas, in the Catalonia region, on March 17 killing a policeman. Hours later police in another resort town, Gandia deactivated a second car bomb.

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The group apologised to the families of two workers killed by "mistake" in a powerful car bomb attack in February which seriously injured a Socialist town councillor -- the bomb's intended target.

In its statement, ETA warned tourists not to travel to Spanish resorts to avoid "undesirable consequences" and said it had included "Spanish touristic-economic interests" among its targets.

However, government officials and representatives of the huge tourism industry played down the threat.

"They have repeated this kind of thing several times," a government spokesman said. "Their attacks have never had a noticeable impact on tourism."

A travel association official also said ETA's threat would have little impact because European visitors knew Spain well and were unlikely to be deterred.

ETA has targeted the tourism industry before. In 1996, a bomb exploded in the airport of resort town Reus in northeastern Spain, injuring 35 tourists. That was part of a series of small bomb attacks in beach towns that year.

Tourism is Spain's biggest industry. It received more than 48 million foreign visitors last year, making it the world's number three tourist destination after France and the United States.

ETA has been linked to about 800 killings since 1968 when it launched its violent campaign for an independent Basque region in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Police have hit back, and in recent weeks have arrest dozens of suspected ETA members or supporters.

The attacks come despite scheduled early elections for the Basque regional parliament in May.

During most of its campaign for Basque independence, ETA has typically reduced the levels of violence in the months before elections.

The Basque parliament is sharply divided among seven parties, with nationalist parties holding a slight edge over the parties that favour maintaining the Basque region as part of Spain. The last parliamentary election, in October, 1998, occurred during ETA's unilateral ceasefire.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
The Basque Country
Spanish Interior Ministry
Association for Peace in the Basque Country

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