MADRID, Jan. 23 -- A senior member of Spain's right-wing Popular Party was killed Monday at a bar in San Sebastian in the troubled northern Basque country, police said. State radio RNE said a lone gunman had entered the bar in San Sebastian's picturesque old quarter and fired a number of shots at Gregorio Ordonez at close range. 'He was shot in the head. A local ambulance service officer pronounced him dead. There was no need to take him to hospital,' a spokeswoman for the regional police force, the Ertzaintza, told United Press International. Colleagues in the Popular Party, which is Spain's principal opposition group, immediately blamed the armed Basque separatist group ETA. But police refused to speculate as to whether ETA had carried out the attack. 'We knew it was dangerous to be in the party in the Basque country,' said Javier Leon de Rivero, a Popular Party spokesman. ETA has been fighting for 25 years to create a separate Basque state made up of four northern Spanish provinces and three sections of southwestern France. Ordonez, 36, was the party's leader in the province of Guipuzcoa, its official spokesman in the Basque Country and a deputy in the Basque regional parliament. The Popular Party, which currently leads Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez's ruling Socialists in national opinion polls, believes the government should take a harder line against ETA. Ordonez had been an outspoken critic of ETA's campaign of shootings, bombings and kidnappings. Although ETA has been linked to the deaths of a dozen politicians over the last 25 years, it had not acted against a Basque politician for a decade.
ETA's most spectacular political assassination was the killing of Gen. Francisco Franco's prime minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, in Madrid in 1973. Interior Minister Juan-Alberto Belloch Monday cut short a visit to Israel in order to travel to San Sebastian. Popular Party leader Jose-Maria Aznar also was traveling to the northern Basque Country Monday. Ordonez was a city council member and held the title of mayor's lieutenant in a coalition council led by the Socialists. Ordonez was due to be his party's candidate for mayor in May 28 city elections. ETA has been accused in the Jan. 13 shooting death of police officer Rafael Leiba in the region's largest city, Bilbao. A second police officer was wounded in the incident. ETA is held responsible for some 760 killings in its fight for a Basque state.