MADRID, Spain -- On the eve of national elections, an activist from Spain's ruling Socialist Party was gunned down in the Basque city of Mondragon, throwing a hard-fought political campaign into disarray.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the government was quick to blame the militant Basque separatist organization ETA, which has set off a series of small bombs ahead of the vote and killed two Spanish policemen just across the border in France on Dec. 1. The group ended a cease-fire last year.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his rival, Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party, immediately canceled the rest of their campaign appearances ahead of tomorrow's elections. Huge, final rallies had been scheduled for yesterday.
Spanish police had been on high alert in anticipation of attacks by ETA aimed at disrupting the election. Four years ago, Islamic militants killed 191 people in Madrid three days before the last national elections - the deadliest terror attack in the history of continental Europe.
"The terrorists have attempted to interfere today in the peaceful demonstration by citizens called on to vote," Zapatero said in a statement on national television. "But Spanish democracy does not allow challenges from those who attack its basic principles. ... We know that ETA is already conquered by democracy, repudiated and isolated by Spaniards and the Basque society."
In yesterday's attack, one or two assailants intercepted Isaias Carrasco, 42, as he left his apartment at midday, witnesses and officials said. A gunman pumped at least three shots into his upper body and he fell, covered in blood, in front of his wife and daughter. His wife threw herself to his side, screaming, "Murderers!" as his daughter cried, "Papa! Papa!," a neighbor told Spanish television CNN-Plus.
Carrasco had served on the Mondragon City Council for the Socialist Party but failed to be re-elected last year. He held no public post when he was shot.
It was not clear what effect the attack would have on tomorrow's vote. Four years ago, the bombings of four subways during rush hour, and then the government's clumsy handling of the case, angered and energized the public, propelling a massive turnout at the polls that benefited the Socialists, who were in the opposition at the time.
Political leaders were quick to call on the public to vote tomorrow to show that ETA cannot intimidate the citizens of Spain. A high turnout normally benefits the Socialists, but some voters might hold Zapatero's government responsible for ETA's resurgence. Rajoy has sought to portray Zapatero as being weak on Basque terrorism, in part because the prime minister acknowledged continued government contact with representatives of ETA after the cease-fire collapsed.
"Today is a day of mourning," Rajoy said, "and we all must be united together against ETA. The only option is to defeat ETA. ... ETA must lose all hopes of achieving their political objectives."
Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.