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Basque voters decide

BILBAO, Spain -- Spain's Basque population is voting in regional parliamentary elections amid separatist violence.

The election was taking place a day after a car bomb exploded in central Madrid injuring 13 people.

The attack was blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA.

Although ETA did not claim responsibility for the latest bombing, Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said an anonymous caller in the name of ETA warned authorities eight minutes before the blast.

Officials believe the latest attack was intended not only to intimidate Basque voters but also to press ETA's strategy of creating a climate of fear throughout Spain.


CNN's Al Goodman: The region is tense

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Opinion polls show the vote could oust the ruling Basque nationalist party -- which favours independence -- from power in the regional government.

Jaime Mayor Oreja, the candidate for the government's Popular Party, told state radio that Sunday's vote provided an immediate opportunity for the Basques to answer ETA.

"We are the privileged ones who can say what we think about the Madrid car bomb...and we can do that by voting," he said.

Josu Jon Imaz, spokesman for the Basque regional government, said ETA was trying to dictate politics in the Basque region and urged people to tell ETA it will not achieve its objectives.

Those elected on Sunday will choose a leader for the region, which has its own police force, school curriculum, health system and authority to levy taxes.

The key issues of the election are how to deal with ETA and what links, if any, should be maintained between the region and the central government in Madrid, 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the south.

Analysts doubt either side will emerge with a clear-cut majority, which could mean weeks of negotiations among the parties before a new government is formed.

Jose Luis Zubizarreta, a former high-ranking official in the regional government, told the Associated Press: "Never before have both sides been so polarized and yet apparently equal in the polls."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a survivor of a 1995 ETA car bomb attack, wants to defeat ETA and limit the power of moderate Basque nationalists who oppose violence.

Aznar's candidate for regional president is Mayor Oreja -- who recently resigned as Spain's interior minister.

Mayor Oreja's main opponent for regional president is Juan Jose Ibarretxe, whose Basque Nationalist Party has governed in coalition with another nationalist party, Euskal Alkartasuna.

Mayor Oreja has run unsuccessfully for the post three times -- in 1984, 1990 and 1994. Despite his party's strong showing in opinion polls, he trailed Ibarretxe in personal approval ratings.

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

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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