Eta, the Basque separatist group weakened by the recent arrest of several of its military commanders, on Monday demonstrated its persistence as a guerrilla force by detonating a vehicle bomb in the Spanish capital Madrid.

It was the outlawed group’s first attack in Madrid for more than two years, and followed a Supreme Court Ruling on Sunday night banning two political parties – Democracia 3 Millones and Askatasuna – from next month’s regional elections on the grounds that they were fronts for Eta.

No one was hurt in the blast, probably because Eta issued telephone warnings more than an hour before the van containing the explosives blew up. But the bomb, planted in a commercial district near offices of a subsidiary of infrastructure group Ferrovial, damaged nearby cars and buildings and disrupted rush-hour traffic.

The timing of the incident suggests that Eta is trying to reassert itself after a series of military and political setbacks. Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, interior minister, said at the scene that the bomb “has justified the decision taken by the Supreme Court”.

Parties linked to Eta and its demand for full independence of the Basque country of northern Spain and south-west France have won just over a tenth of the vote in the regional elections of the past decade, but the group has been weakened by police raids on both sides of the border and by growing public distaste for its violent methods.

In December, an Eta assassin killed Ignacio Uria, a 71-year-old businessman involved in the building of a high-speed rail link to the Basque country, a project with which Ferrovial is also involved.

Eta, which has killed more than 800 people in Spain over the past 40 years, abandoned a ceasefire in June 2007 after abortive peace negotiations with the Socialist government.

Edurne Uriarte, politics professor at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University and herself a survivor of an Eta assassination attempt, said Eta had been gradually weakened by more effective police work and increased political will on the part of the government to tackle the group.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t have a great capacity to kill,” she said, but added that Eta leaders were wary of further alienating the public. “They know they can attack within certain limits. A bomb like that with no warning would accelerate their end.

At the moment, the objective of Eta is to have new negotiations with the government.”

Eta last launched an attack in Madrid in December 2006, when a car bomb killed two Ecuadoreans at the airport.

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