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Spanish Officials, Citizens Protest Killing of Politician

May 07, 1998| From Associated Press

PAMPLONA, Spain — Government ministers joined about 20,000 residents of this fabled Spanish city to protest the slaying of a local politician, whose death was blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA.

"It's a sad paradox that Pamplona, known for its happy spirit, should be news today because of this action," Mayor Javier Txorau told the crowd before the demonstration began.

City Council member Tomas Caballero, 63, was approached by two men and shot in the back of the neck Wednesday morning as he got into his car outside his apartment building. He died later at a hospital.

Authorities immediately blamed ETA, a group that has killed about 800 people in a 30-year campaign for an independent Basque state.

If ETA is responsible for Caballero's death, he would be the eighth person and fifth politician killed by the group since the July kidnapping and slaying of a young councilor--an attack that sent millions of Spaniards into the streets in protest.

Deputy Prime Minister Francisco Alvarez-Cascos said that ETA--whose initials in the Basque language stand for Basque Homeland and Freedom--was desperate to show it could still strike despite a government crackdown.

Caballero was taken to court in January, accused of slander by the political wing of ETA after he said the group was guilty of "incitement to murder." He also was spokesman for the Union of the Navarran People party, which controls the Pamplona City Council.

Pamplona is the capital of Navarre, which borders the Basque region. ETA believes that the city of 160,000 people, best known for its yearly San Fermin bull-running festival, should be part of any future Basque state.

Mayor Txorau and six Popular Party government ministers led Wednesday's march. Later, about 60 people sat in one of the city's squares, placed their hands behind their heads and--in symbolic defiance--called on ETA's gunmen to shoot them.

People paid respects to the councilor throughout the day at City Hall, where his body was lying in state. He was to be buried today.

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