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Tensions as Basques vote

BILBAO, Spain -- Voters in Spain's Basque region are choosing a new regional government and president amid further violence in the region.

The election is 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.

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.

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.

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CNN's Al Goodman: The region is tense

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 IN-DEPTH
graphic Basque conflict: Violence in Spain


  • Overview
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  • Video archive
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Turn-out in the regional election appears to be high among the 1.8 million people eligible to vote.

But CNN Correspondent Al Goodman says voting is tense, with supporters of ETA shouting and jeering some political leaders on their way into the polling stations.

In the Basque city of San Sebastian, 15 young protesters tried to force their way into the room where Jaime Mayor Oreja, candidate for the government's centre-right Popular Party, was voting. They shouted slogans and held banners reading: "Ahead with Basque youth."

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

Oreja told state radio that the 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 kilometres) 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.

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.

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.



RELATED STORIES:
Basque voters urged to reject ETA
May 7, 2001
Spanish politician shot dead
May 6, 2001
ETA claims 15 attacks
March 30, 2001
ETA blamed for pre-poll bomb
May 12, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Basque Nationalist Party
Humanist Party of the Basque Country
Popular Party
Socialist Party

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