THERE was a minute's silence at the Plaza Cort in Palma.

SPANIARDS mounted a wave of protests against the Basque separatist group ETA yesterday in the aftermath of attacks that appeared to mark a stepping-up of its bloody campaign for independence. In a sombre ritual repeated in towns and cities across Spain, thousands gathered in silence to express outrage over the latest violence, including two car bombings and a political assassination, all carried out in the past five days. Analysts said ETA was showing its muscle outside its base in northern Spain in an effort to force Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to negotiate its demands for a Basque state -- something the government says it will never allow. A gunman shot town councillor Jose Maria Martin Carpena, 50, in front of his wife and teenage daughter on Saturday night in the southern resort of Malaga -- on the opposite side of the country from the troubled Basque region. On Sunday, a car bomb exploded outside a Civil Guard barracks in north-central Spain, slightly injuring one person. Last Wednesday, a car bomb blast outside a popular department store in central Madrid injured nine.