Dozen injured as two bombs explode in Spanish resorts


MADRID (AFP) At least 12 people were injured, two seriously, in two bomb blasts in popular Spanish beach resorts, heralding the apparent start of a summer campaign by Basque separatists to disrupt the country's lucrative tourist industry.

A first explosion at a hotel in the heart of the Mediterranean town of Alicante injured at least eight people - two seriously - according to Valencia police while just minutes later a second blast in the nearby resort of Benidorm injured four policemen cordoning off the building.

Police said one Alicante victim was a 30-year-old Dutchman who was in a coma and a 24-year-old German student while a Foreign Office spokesman in London said a British woman had been treated for minor injuries.

A hospital spokesman described the Dutchman's condition as "very serious" while the German was said to be out of danger following surgery for neck and head injuries.

The other victims included two Swedish women, two Russian women and a Spanish woman, aged between 18 and 30.

All were students at a local Spanish language school.

The hotels had just been evacuated when the devices exploded just after midday (1000 GMT) following an anonymous call to the Basque newspaper Gara by someone claiming to represent the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

Television pictures showed bloodied victims being helped into ambulances.

Basque separatists have killed more than 800 people in a three-decade campaign aimed at creating an independent homeland in northern Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar vowed to hunt down the bombers.

"I am absolutely convinced we will soon see those behind (what happened) today in prison," said Aznar, who promised "ever tougher sentences" for those responsible for the blasts.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that prompt police action meant that "the only risk to life was to that of the police themselves."

Juan Cotino, Spanish government delegate in the autonomous region of Valencia, saluted the police for their speed and courage.

"That ensured there was no massacre, which was the intention of the criminals," Cotino said.

Following a December 1999 truce, ETA, which stands for Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freeedom, returned to violence in early 2001 and last year was blamed for several attacks in the Alicante area.

On August 5 last year a car bomb planted near a police station at Santa Pola killed a six-year-old girl and a man in his 50s while just days later an explosive device was discovered at a beach in the same town.

A week ago police arrested two suspected ETA members near Pamplona in northern Spain along with a cache of explosives and weapons.

Two weeks ago two ETA members were sentenced to a combined total of 3,492 years in prison for the second deadliest outrage carried out by the extremist group, an attack which killed 12 civil guards in Madrid in July 1986.

Quite apart from the latest blasts, Spanish tourism, the country's main earner, is already reeling following a reported 1.4 year on year drop for foreign visitors in June - although second quarter visits rose an annualised 4.5 percent, Britons accounting for by far the largest group.

Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism Juan Costa insisted Spain was a safe tourist venue and slammed ETA for "a new attempt to endanger the security of Spain, the Spanish people and of visitors."

Spain's opposition Socialist Party issued a statement offering to work with the government in combating violence and condemned ETA for embarking on a policy which would accomplish nothing.

The Basque autonomous government roundly condemned the attacks and said ETA "is scripting its own end."