Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

French policeman 'shot dead by Eta'

Police at the site of a shooting in which a French policeman was killed, 17 March 2010
Police have been investigating at the car depot where the killing occurred

Spain's prime minister has blamed the killing of a French policeman shot dead near Paris on the Basque separatist group Eta.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was quoted as calling the killing "a criminal action carried out by the terrorist group Eta".

A man arrested after the shooting identified himself as a Basque Eta member, Spanish newspapers reported.

If confirmed, it would be the first killing of a French policeman by Eta.

Earlier, French authorities told AFP news agency that the involvement of Eta was one of several leads being followed.

The exchange of fire happened late on Tuesday when police checked the identities of a group suspected of stealing cars from a depot in Dammarie-les-Lys, a a south-eastern suburb of Paris.

'High price'

As officers were checking their papers, a second car drove up and opened fire. The officer who died was hit in the chest, French officials said.

I know the extent to which [the French] co-operate with us, they feel the cause of freedom and of the end of Eta as we feel it
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Later, police mounted a search operation in the area.

Eta is blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people since the late 1960s in its campaign for an independent Basque state.

There have been frequent arrests of Eta suspects in France, often in the south-west.

However, last month one of the group's top leaders, Ibon Gogeascoechea, was arrested in north-western France.

He was detained with two other Eta suspects in a joint French-Spanish operation in Normandy, in one of a series of recent setbacks for the group.

Mr Zapatero was quoted on Wednesday as saying that France had "paid a high price for its help against Eta".

"I know the extent to which [the French] co-operate with us, they feel the cause of freedom and of the end of Eta as we feel it."

He added: "The terrorist group is being pursued relentlessly but it maintains its criminal intent."

Eta, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the US and the EU, resumed attacks in June 2007 after a truce of 15 months.

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