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Spanish politician shot dead

MADRID, Spain -- A regional leader of Spain's ruling Popular Party has been shot dead in an attack bearing the hallmarks of ETA.

Manuel Jimenez Abad, 52, president of the party in the northern region of Aragon, was shot twice while on his way to a soccer match with his son in the city of Zaragoza on Sunday.

"Three shots were heard in what looks like an assassination attempt by ETA," said a spokesman for the Spanish government in Zaragoza.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing which comes amid campaigning for next Sunday's elections for the Basque regional parliament.

graphic Basque conflict: Violence in Spain

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But police found 9 mm ammunition cases, typical of the type used by members of the separatist group, near the scene.

CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman said a man in his 20s was seen running away following the attack.

ETA -- Basque Homeland and Freedom in the Basque language -- has killed about 800 people since 1968 in its fight for an independent homeland carved out of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Nationalists who rule Spain's Basque region face losing their 21 year grip power in the elections, according to opinion polls.

The polls, if accurate, would confirm political analysts' belief that voters are disappointed at the return of violence perpetrated by ETA armed separatists.

They indicated that the two main non-nationalist parties would gain enough votes to allow them to form a coalition government in the 75-seat Basque assembly.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and a smaller ally called the election in February, a year ahead of schedule, after a political crisis provoked by 29 killings linked to ETA since the group called off a ceasefire in late 1999.

The PNV regional government, led by Juan Jose Ibarretxe, has been governing in minority since last year after suspending a parliamentary pact with Euskal Herritarrok (EH) -- widely considered to be ETA's political wing.

Lined up against the mainstream Basque nationalists are the two big Madrid-based parties -- the ruling centre-right Popular Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) -- which criticise the PNV for refusing to sever all ties with EH.

Both the Madrid-based parties have expressed an interest in forming a non-nationalist government in the region.

Many Basques see next Sunday's vote as a referendum on the Spanish government's hardline anti-ETA policy versus the PNV's demand for cross-party talks to resolve the conflict.

The PNV shares ETA's goals of self-determination but rejects its violent methods.

Although the PNV-led coalition could actually see its number of seats rise to 30 from a current 27, it appears to lack any clear ally to help it form a government.

The PNV has ruled out a new parliamentary deal with EH.

According to the polls, a PP-PSOE coalition could increase its presence in the parliament to 37 seats, within a whisker of giving the region its first non-nationalist government since the return of democracy in 1980.

PP's candidate for the Basque presidency, Spain's former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, is highly regarded by Spaniards for leading the government's hardline fight against Basque nationalism and ETA violence.

The polls agree that EH will come off the worst in the regional vote and see its seats fall to as low as seven from the peak of 14 it won in 1998.

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

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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