Spain Downplays State Dept.'s Announcement on Basque Region

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by Felicity Long

NEW YORK -- Tourism officials are downplaying a public announcement issued by the U.S. State Department urging Americans to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings in the Basque region of Spain for the rest of the summer.

The announcement warned of "the potential for localized violence" in the larger Basque cities during demonstrations by various factions of the basque separatist movement. The State Department further cautioned that "sporadic street violence" could result from the demonstrations, particularly in the city of San Sebastian. The demonstrations are in reaction to the assassination of a Basque official by the terrorist group ETA.

Despite the announcement, Ignacio Vasallo, director of the National Tourist Office of Spain, is not recommending that tourists make changes in their travel plans. "Historically, neither the tourism industry nor tourists themselves have been affected by ETA's actions," Vasallo said "As far as we know, tour operators have not changed any plans or programs as a result of the recent events."

Joaquin Pradas, president of Petrabax and of the Spain Tour Operators Association, said, "It is regrettable that this State Department action had to be taken, and we understand their advice to tourists about avoiding local areas where big demonstrations are planned." He said, however, that so far the demonstrations have been peaceful. As far as the impact on business, there hasn't been any. We have had no cancellations or even any telephone calls expressing concern."

Antonio Alonso, president of Marketing Ahead, the U.S. representative for the country's network of paradors, also predicted that tourism to the area will be business as usual.

Although he said he does not plan to issue warnings to passengers about possible dangers of violence in the region, Alonso said that tourists should use their common sense when sightseeing. "As a general rule, we don't advise tourists to participate in demonstrations when abroad, and we will say that to anyone who asks," he said.

The public announcement expires on Aug. 31.

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