Rescuers seek bodies under Madrid airport rubble

 
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MADRID, Dec 31 (Reuters) Rescue workers at Madrid Airport searched today for the bodies of two men believed to be lying under rubble left by yesterday's ETA car bomb as Basque separatists insisted the peace process was not dead.

The Spanish government suspended planned dialogue with ETA yesterday after the bomb in the airport car park, but the banned political party linked to the separatist guerrillas said talks for a peaceful solution to the conflict would carry on.

''The process hasn't collapsed. On the contrary, we think it is very necessary now to address the roots of the conflict,'' Karmelo Landa, a leading member of Batasuna, told Reuters.

Thousands of anti-ETA protesters took to the streets of Madrid and other Spanish cities today.

Rescue workers used heavy machinery to search for two men, both Ecuadorean immigrants, believed buried under tonnes of concrete brought down by the car bomb which wrecked a multi-storey car park at the ultra-modern Terminal Four at 1310 hours yesterday.

If their deaths are confirmed, the blast will have been the first ETA attack to claim a life for more than three years.

The detonation of several hundred kilograms of explosives packed in a van an hour after the first of three telephoned warnings ended a ceasefire declared by ETA in March.

Spain's Interior Ministry said the Renault Traffic van used in the bombing had been stolen in southern France last Wednesday. Its owner, a Spanish man on a camping trip, had been held hostage for three days before being released in France an hour after the blast.

Nineteen people were slightly hurt by the blast, which caused panic in Terminal Four, where police did not begin evacuating until after the departure hall filled with smoke.

In June, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero declared the start of a peace process with ETA, which has killed more than 800 people in its fight for independence of the northern region, which has a distinct culture and language.

''RENOUNCE VIOLENCE'' But negotiations never got off the ground. Separatists insisted the government legalise Batasuna and move ETA prisoners to jails closer to their homes, and the government protested after ETA supporters torched buses.

Zapatero, a Socialist whose decision to talk to ETA was criticised by the conservative opposition, said yesterday that ETA would have to show signs of renouncing violence if dialogue is to take place.

Landa said Zapatero had been careful not to say the search for a negotiated solution to the four-decade-old conflict in the Basque Country was over.

''We have noted how careful he was with his words, he never spoke of a rupture,'' Landa said by telephone.

Referring to Zapatero, a government official, who did not want to be named, said: ''He closed the door, but didn't slam it shut. He didn't say 'never again'.'' But some time would have to pass before the government would be ready to speak to ETA again, the official said, adding ''That's my personal opinion.'' Today, Madrid's historic Puerta del Sol square filled with thousands of protesters carrying Spanish flags and chanting for Zapatero to resign.

''The government has to realise it can't negotiate with murderers,'' said demonstrator Pablo Garijo, a hotel sales executive, holding a large Spanish flag.

REUTERS KR KN0001

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