Spanish journalists gathered in silence yesterday to mark the killing of a newspaper executive and make a stand against intimidation by the ETA Basque separatists blamed for the attack. Santiago Oleaga Elejabarrieta, 54, financial director at the leading regional newspaper El Diario Vasco (The Basque Daily), was shot seven times on Thursday in what is believed to be ETA's first killing since a key regional election on May 13. Grouped round a sculpture in the Basque city of San Sebastian where Oleaga was killed, journalists read a statement saying they would not succumb to coercion. “However much they kill and try to impose their cause through terror we, as media professionals, will defend the freedom of expression which took so long to achieve in this country,” they said. Until 1975, Spain lived under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. TA - which means Basque Homeland and Freedom in the Basque language - sees Spanish-language media as an extension of an “occupying” Spanish state and considers the current government heirs to Franco. The rebels, continental Europe's last major active guerrilla group, have targeted mostly the security forces and mainstream political parties, but news organisations have increasingly come under threat since ETA called off a ceasefire in December 1999.

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