Spaniards were mounting a wave of protests yesterday against the radical Basque separatist group ETA over the assassination of a member of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's conservative ruling party. Several thousand people gathered in silent vigils in Spain's northern Basque region overnight just hours after Jesus Maria Pedrosa, 57, was gunned down on the streets of Durango where he had served as a Popular Party town councillor since 1987. Further demonstrations were planned across the country yesterday to vent outrage over the latest attack, the fifth killing blamed on ETA since it ended a 14-month ceasefire last December. Witnesses said Pedrosa, who had refused a bodyguard despite ETA death threats, was shot in the back of the head by a lone gunman dressed in black. The killer jumped into a waiting car that sped from the scene. Pedrosa was a local politician barely known outside his home province of Vizcaya - something that made his killing all the more shocking to many Spaniards. Aznar, who made a tough anti-ETA stance one of the cornerstones of a re-election campaign that won him a resounding victory on March 12, planned to fly to the Basque region yesterday to pay his condolences to Pedrosa's family. The front pages of yesterday's newspapers carried graphic photographs of Pedrosa sprawled in a pool of blood on the pavement in front of a cosmetics shop. Widely quoted in the Spanish media was his response in a 1997 radio interview when asked why he stayed on in his home town in defiance of ETA intimidation. “I'm not sure whether I'm going to heaven or hell,” he replied. “But when I go, I'm going from Durango.”

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