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Spanish PM defends minister on ETA attack warning

Spanish PM defends minister on ETA attack warning

Spain's premier defended his interior minister Wednesday amid criticism he alarmed people with a rare public warning that Basque separatist militants might be planning a big attack or a kidnapping very soon.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Monday's warning by Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was a calculated part of the ministry's strategy against the separatist group ETA. He would not say what that strategy is.
"We must be cautious because, as is natural, when we are facing who we are facing, the strategy cannot be revealed in depth," Zapatero said. "But I insist the announcement stems from anti-terrorism policy."
Opposition parties have criticized Perez Rubalcaba as alarmist or playing into the hands of ETA by giving them publicity.
Perez Rubalcaba said that ETA is divided over whether to continue its violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland or seek peace, and that this circumstance raises the prospect of a major attack or a kidnapping as a way for the group to reassert itself.
Another attention-grabbing excuse for ETA to strike now would be that Spain is about to take over the rotating EU presidency on Jan. 1, the minister said.
Zapatero spoke at a wide-ranging news conference at which he summed up the government's achievements in 2009.
Zapatero said 2009 was a rough year for the economy, with an unemployment rate now at 17.9 percent and forecast to finish the year higher, and one million jobs lost. Half of these were in the construction sector, which had been the main engine of nearly a decade of robust growth until Spain's real estate bubble burst in 2008.
Zapatero said there are signs the economy's deterioration is slowing but it will not start achieve net creation of jobs until late 2010.
Zapatero said he is not thinking yet about whether to run for a third term in 2012. Polls show the economic crisis is causing his Socialist party to lose ground against the conservative opposition.
For now, Zapatero said his main focus is resurrecting the economy. "It is my sole worry. I would go so far as to say it is my sole obsession. Everything else right now is less important. It is not going to be an issue for debate."