A local police chief was shot and seriously wounded yesterday in the Basque region of northern Spain in an attack which authorities blamed on outlawed separatist guerrilla group ETA. If confirmed, it would be the first attack by ETA in 2003. It comes amid heightened tension in the largely autonomous Basque region as Madrid pushes ahead with plans to outlaw radical nationalist party Batasuna ahead of elections in May. At around 10:00 am a hooded gunman burst into a cafe in the northern Basque town of Andoain and shot police sergeant Joseba Pagazaurtundua, 45, several times in the head and back as he was eating his breakfast. The policeman, an activist of anti-ETA group “Basta Ya” and the brother of a local Socialist politician, was rushed to hospital in the nearby city of San Sebastian. A hospital spokeswoman said his diagnosis was “extremely serious” and he was on life-support equipment. Several Basque politicians came to pay their respects. “In the name of Basque society, I condemn without reservation and with all my force this terrorist act by ETA,” said regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe, a mainstream nationalist. “ETA has no place in our society.” Police immediately began a major search operation for the gunman, who fled the scene in a getaway car. ETA, whose name means Basque Homeland and Freedom, is Western Europe's most active guerrilla group. It has killed 838 people since 1968 in pursuit of an independent state in Basque areas of northern Spain and southwestern France. Spanish politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, with the notable exception of Batasuna, were quick to denounce the shooting. The Socialist party convened a demonstration for last night in Andoain, a centre for radical Basque nationalism. “The democrats of this country must try to be like Joseba, activists for peace and freedom,” said the Socialists' leader in the Basque Country, Patxi Lopez, after visiting Pagazaurtundua in hospital. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, speaking at an event in Madrid, extended his solidarity to the victim. “I want to tell our friends in the Socialist party that we are with them and we will work side by side together to defeat terrorism,” he said.< While Batasuna rejects Madrid's claim it is the political wing of ETA, its members routinely refuse to condemn the group's killings and say they are part of the struggle for independence. The party holds around 10 percent of the vote in the Basque country.