A car bomb blamed on Basque separatist group ETA exploded in the northern Spanish town of Bilbao yesterday, injuring at least two people, in the first bombing in 2002. The attack bore the hallmarks of the separatists and marked the first act of violence since Spain took over the presidency of the European Union on January 1. At least two people were slightly injured by flying glass and surrounding buildings were badly damaged, officials said. The car was parked in front of the El Corte Ingles department store in Bilbao's main shopping area, which was packed with bargain-hunters in the January sales. ETA once again does something as worse and as tragic as putting a bomb in a commercial area on a Saturday...hundreds of people could have died in Bilbao, Antonio Basagoitia, spokesman for Spain's ruling Popular Party told Cadena Ser radio. Spain's conservative government led by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said on assuming the rotating presidency that terrorism would be top of the agenda. Spain has been fighting the separatist group which has killed more than 800 people since 1968 when its campaign for an independent Basque state began. Basque police had begun evacuating the area half an hour before the explosion after an anonymous caller in the name of ETA warned the police. Radio said the explosion was heard all over Bilbao and television pictures showed a large cloud of black smoke billowing from the twisted remains of a car engulfed in flames. Police said one of the car seats was found on the roof of the seven-storey El Corte Ingles department store so strong was the force of the blast. They said around 15-20 kg of dynamite were estimated to have been used in the blast. The car was stolen in the Basque country earlier on Saturday and the owner was found tied to a tree. ETA's name is on an EU list of terrorist groups. But Spain, which has cracked down on groups linked to ETA, believes those who support and cooperate with violent attacks are just as responsible as those who carry them out and wants to include Batasuna, the political wing of ETA, on the list. The Bilbao attack comes after a French court on Friday approved the extradition to Spain of a leader of the Basque group as part of the increased cooperation between Madrid and Paris in recent months. Spanish authorities allege Ignacio Gracia Arregui, believed to have taken over the ETA leadership in the early 1990s, was behind a failed plot to kill King Juan Carlos in 1995.
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