ETA blamed for Barcelona police officer's death


Basque separatists shot dead a policeman in central Barcelona yesterday, officials said, the 23rd killing this year blamed on ETA guerrillas.

Mr Miguel Angel Gervilla (38), a municipal police officer, had approached two young men pushing a car along one of Barcelona's main streets when they opened fire on him and then fled the scene, officials said.

Police cordoned off the area and safely detonated 6 kg of explosives found in the boot of the car.

"It has been confirmed that the terrorist organisation ETA was involved," the Spanish government's representative in Barcelona said.

ETA had been linked to 22 earlier assassinations this year in its drive for Basque independence, the highest annual toll since 1992, when the group killed 26 people. Most of the victims have been low-level politicians, police or military personnel.

The past three ETA-linked murders have all taken place in or near Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city and capital of the north-eastern Catalonia region, where nationalist sentiment runs as high as it does in the Basque Country.

But Spanish officials have so far been unable to discern any special political motive for ETA's targeting of Barcelona in recent attacks.

ETA violence is roundly condemned in Catalonia as it is across Spain by all but the most radical Basque separatists.

Anti-ETA groups yesterday immediately began planning a round of demonstrations, the sombre routine of angry protest that follows each ETA-linked attack. Tension has been running high in the Barcelona area since the car-bomb murder of a local politician last week and the shooting of a former Socialist health minister in the city in November. Both attacks were attributed to ETA.