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Street Violence Sweeps Basque Area

March 14, 1999

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Basque activists enraged by the arrest of separatist leaders hurled Molotov cocktails and set off a homemade bomb in widespread street violence, news reports said Sunday.

State radio reported 17 incidents across the Basque region of northern Spain. A spokesman for the regional police said four people were treated for smoke inhalation in San Sebastian and five were arrested for public disorder.

The violence followed Tuesday’s arrest in Paris of five members of the separatist ETA. Spanish police described one of those arrested as the leader of the group’s paramilitary wing.

The next day, police who had been monitoring two senior ETA operatives in San Sebastian arrested them when it appeared the two were preparing to flee Spain. Seven other ETA suspects were also taken into custody.

Spanish government officials have insisted the arrests do not jeopardize the cease-fire ETA declared in September. ETA’s 30-year armed campaign for independence has claimed nearly 800 lives.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has offered to hold talks with ETA, which stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom, but ruled out allowing Basque secession.

In Bilbao, a small explosive device went off overnight Saturday in the doorway of an apartment building where a Socialist city councilor’s parents live, but no one was hurt. Assailants also threw Molotov cocktails through the front window of a Citroen dealership, damaging several cars.

In Pamplona, attackers set fire to a telephone booth, several trash bins and an automatic teller machine.

In the town of Bermeo, 10 hooded assailants armed with baseball bats stormed the local headquarters of the Socialist Party and smashed it up on Saturday. Four people were inside at the time but no one was injured.

Incidents were also reported in half a dozen other Basque towns.

Update hourly