MADRID, Spain – Thousands of sunbathers were evacuated from five beaches in eastern Spain for hours Wednesday in what appeared to be the third fake bomb scare in the same tourist area in a week.
Beachgoers were allowed back after a two-hour search produced no evidence of explosives, the government said.
"It looks like a sick joke, a desire to bother people," said Montserrat Tura, the Interior Ministry chief for the regional government of Catalonia (search ).
Police ordered some 2,000 people to clear the beaches around 2 p.m. after the Basque newspaper Gara, which often serves as a mouthpiece for the Basque separatist group ETA (search ), received two calls warning of bombs, the Interior Ministry said.
In one warning, the caller reportedly claimed that 330 pounds of explosives loaded in a backpack would go off at 2:15 p.m. in the same beach area mentioned in bomb threats Sunday and Tuesday.
"The beaches have been totally reopened," said Carlos Genovilla, a member of the city council in the resort town of Sant Carles de la Rapita in Tarragona province.
Summer bombing campaigns along Spain's coast — at the height of the tourist season — are an ETA hallmark.
ETA claimed responsibility for two small bombs that exploded Saturday in northern tourist towns for which it gave warnings ahead of time. No one was injured in the blasts.
An ETA-claimed bombing in August 2002 in the town of Santa Pola near Alicante killed two people, including a 6-year-old girl.
The bombing prompted the Spanish government to undertake legal proceedings that culminated last year in the banning of Batasuna (search ), a Basque pro-independence party seen as ETA's political wing.
Bombings on commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,600 on March 11 in an attack blamed on Islamic extremists linked to Al Qaeda.