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Spanish police detain four ETA suspects

MADRID, Dec 16 – Spanish police detained four suspected members of the armed Basque separatist group ETA in the early hours of Tuesday in and around San Sebastian, Spanish media reported.

The two men and two women were detained in raids carried out on three homes in the Basque coastal city and the nearby town of Pasaia, public television TVE and Cadena Ser radio reported.

They have no previous police records and are thought to form part of an ETA "commando" that was charged with gathering information about possible targets for attacks, the media outlets reported.

The three homes are currently being searched by police, TVE reported citing anti-terrorism sources.

ETA has been blamed for the deaths of 825 people in Spain in its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque country taking in parts of northern Spain and south-western France.

The most recent death blamed on the group took place on December 3 when a 71-year-old businessman, Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, was shot dead in the Basque town of Azpeitia.

Mendizabal headed a company, Altuna y Uria that is involved in the construction of a high-speed rail network in the Basque region, a project opposed by ETA.

Five days later French police seized Aitzol Iriondo Yarza, known under the nom de guerre "Gurbitz", in the southwestern French village of Gerde along with two suspected members of his militant cell.

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"Gurbitz" is alleged to have been the successor of Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, known as "Txeroki", as leader of ETA military operations, who was arrested by French police last month.

ETA called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June last year, saying it had grown tired of a lack of concessions on the part of the socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in their tentative peace talks.

That truce had effectively ended when ETA bombed a Madrid airport car park in December 2006, killing two Ecuadoran men who were sleeping in their cars.

The government has repeatedly ruled out any further talks with the group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States.

"It ought to be clear to everyone now that dialogue with ETA is part of a past that is not going to return," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Saturday.

Security analysts say ETA has been seriously weakened by the arrest of hundreds of members and their supporters over the last decade.

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