Guggenheim photo show causes storm over Basques

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MADRID, Oct 18 (Reuters) Photographs of a shadowy gun and a weeping man have touched a raw nerve in Spain, prompting angry calls for an exhibition at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum to be withdrawn for showing Basque ETA rebels in a positive light.

The collection of black and white images illustrating the Basque conflict by photographer Clemente Bernad has enraged both relatives of ETA victims and Spain's conservative opposition.

One photograph that has raised hackles shows a man weeping over the coffin of a dead ETA rebel. Beside it is a less emotive image: a police officer, his casually held assault rifle in silhouette, guarding the funeral procession of a dead colleague.

''This show does not condemn terrorist violence,'' said the Collective of Victims of Terrorism in the Basque Country, whose members include relatives of many of the 800 people killed by ETA in four decades of struggle for Basque independence.

Victims' families were particularly outraged to hear that one photograph by Bernad, not included in the exhibition, showed an x-ray of the smashed skull of former local politician Miguel Angel Blanco, who was killed by ETA in 1997.

The conservative Popular Party (PP), which is narrowly trailing the governing Socialists ahead of general elections next March, proposed a motion in the Basque parliament calling for the exhibition to be withdrawn.

''The photographs relativise ETA's crimes,'' the PP said.

The uproar has overshadowed celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the Guggenheim's opening in Bilbao. The museum building, a spectacular steel and titanium structure designed by American architect Frank Gehry, has been credited with reviving the gritty Basque Country port.

The museum said it would not remove the photographs unless ordered to do so by the courts. In a catalogue accompanying the show, it wrote that the images ''did not justify or condemn.'' Only a minority of Basques want independence from Spain and only a minority of separatists back ETA violence.

But the issue of Basque separatism once again flared as the dominant political issue in Spain last month after the head of the regional government called for a referendum-type vote which could lead to talks about independence.

One of those protesting about the Guggenheim show is the sister of the murdered politician Blanco, whose kidnapping and killing two days later caused a sea change in attitudes to ETA in the Basque Country.

''For years, what the terrorists said was seen as legitimate in Basque society, and the voices of the victims were not heard,'' said Blanco's sister, Mari Mar Blanco.

''That's why the museum should rethink this exhibition or withdraw it,'' she told reporters on Wednesday.

REUTERS SKB PM1650

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