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Small blasts on Tour de France after ETA threat

MADRID (Reuters) - Two small explosions hit the Spanish section of Wednesday’s Tour de France cycle race after a telephone bomb threat from a caller claiming to represent Basque separatist rebels ETA, Spanish government officials said.

The pack of riders cycle in the Pyrenees mountains during the 14th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Mazamet and Plateau de Beille, July 22, 2007. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

No one was hurt and the Tour, the most important race on the cycling calendar, continued after explosives placed in two plastic containers went off at 1122 GMT and 1152 GMT (7.22 a.m. and 7.52 a.m. ET) just before the cyclists passed through the small town of Belagua.

No one was hurt by the bombs, placed some distance from the road, the regional government of the Navarre region said.

Two hours earlier, the caller had told highway authorities ETA had planted several bombs along the route of the Tour de France through Navarre, prompting security forces to check the road to make sure it was safe for competitors and public.

ETA has killed more than 800 people in four decades of armed struggle for traditional Basque lands in northern Spain and southern France. It called off a ceasefire in June.

The government says it has foiled several plans for bomb attacks by ETA since December when a bomb it planted at Madrid airport killed two people, even though the ceasefire was still meant to be in force.

An ETA member was arrested in the south of France on Wednesday, the Spanish government said.

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The rebels have threatened the Tour de France before.

The Tour, in its final week, was plunged in controversy after pre-race favorite Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping.

Dane Michael Rasmussen held an advantage of two minutes 23 seconds over Spain’s Alberto Contador ahead of Wednesday’s 218.5-km 16th stage to the Col d’Aubisque, one of the most spectacular routes in this year’s race.

Rasmussen is also under pressure after failing to provide information on his whereabouts during training.

Additional reporting by Inmaculada Sanz, Blanca Rodriguez, Andrew Hay and Simon Baskett