World News

Thousands march in Spain in anti-government rally

MADRID (Reuters) - Thousands of Spaniards marched in Madrid on Saturday in an anti-government demonstration that highlighted Basque separatist group ETA would be a key political issue in next March’s general election.

The marchers thronged the streets waving red and yellow Spanish flags and bearing slogans reading “We’ll beat ETA”. They also chanted for the resignation of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

More than 800 people have been killed by ETA in nearly four decades of armed struggle for Basque independence from Spain.

The rally is the first organized by a group of ETA victims, the Association of the Victims of Terrorism, since a Spanish court last month found 21 people -- mostly Moroccans -- guilty of involvement in the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004.

Many of the group’s members believe ETA was involved in the bombings, which killed 191 people, but the court ruled out the participation of ETA in the attacks.

The conservative government in power in March 2004 at first pinned the blame for the attack on ETA, but it became increasingly clear it was the work of Islamist extremists. Spain turned against its leaders and voted them out of power three days later.

The demonstration was notable for the absence of conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party is narrowly trailing the governing Socialists in polls.

The government has tried but failed to find a solution to violence in the Basque Country through peace talks with ETA. It broke off the talks in December when the rebels bombed Madrid airport, killing two people.

It has since cracked down on the group, arresting dozens for suspected involvement with the outlawed separatists.

Reporting by Sonya Dowsett