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Basque voters urged to reject ETA

MADRID, Spain -- Voters are being urged to use next week's Basque election as a protest against continuing separatist violence.

The call comes after Manuel Gimenez Abad, former president of the Popular Party in the northern region of Aragon, was assassinated in front of his son.

Although there has been no claim of responsibility the killing has been linked to ETA -- the Basque separatist group who want an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France

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CNN's Al Goodman: Last killing comes just a week before Basque elections

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Jaime Mayor Oreja, former Interior Minister and the Popular Party's candidate for regional Basque president, said: "We have the opportunity to respond to ETA (the gunmen) through the ballot box.

"Just as they act with guns, we must know how to act with voting slips."

Oreja is highly regarded by Spaniards for leading the government's hardline fight against Basque nationalism and ETA violence.

His comments come the day after Abad was shot dead while on his way to a football 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 but police found 9mm ammunition cases, typical of the type used by members of the separatist group, near the scene.

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.

Basque nationalists, who have rule the region for 21 years ,face losing power in the elections, according to opinion polls.

The polls 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.



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