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Election Rallies Canceled in Spain After Killing Blamed on ETA


Spain's political parties canceled campaign rallies on Friday, after a former councilor from the governing Socialist Party was shot dead in the Basque Country. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Isaias Carrasco, 42, was shot several times as he left his home with his wife and daughter in the town of Arrasate near San Sebastian. The government, led by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, blamed ETA separatists.

Mr. Zapatero, who broke off peace talks with ETA in December 2006 after they killed two people with a car bomb, said those who were responsible for the killing of Carrasco would be arrested and brought to justice.

Mr. Zapatero said Spanish democracy has already shown that it will not accept challengers to it's principles and its essential values. He added that the government has not submitted in the past, it has not today and it never will.

The prime minister said, the government, political parties, social organizations and civil society will together defend the country's institutions and freedoms.

Whether Carrasco's murder would have any effect on the outcome of Sunday's election, in which the Socialists are favorites, was not immediately clear. But the killing prompted the two main political parties to call off rallies scheduled for Friday, the last day allowed for campaigning.

Opinion polls this week showed Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero with a four point lead over conservative candidate Mariano Rajoy. The political debate ahead of the elections has been dominated by concerns over the slowing economy and immigration.

Until now, the issue of Basque separatism had played a relatively minor part, but the killing was a grim reminder of the how ETA can affect voters' choices.

Spain's last election in 2004 was held three days after a terror attack by Islamic militants on four Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded some 1,800 others. The conservatives in power at the time blamed ETA and voters surprisingly handed the victory to the Socialists of Zapatero.

The result was due partly to an unusually high turnout by young voters angered by how the government had immediately blamed the train bombings on ETA.

In this election, Prime Minister Zapatero hopes his socially liberal policies, such as legalizing gay marriage and making divorce easier, will encourage young voters to the polls.

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