Basques force inquiry into police procedures

While reports of resignations in the upper echelons of the military police force and continued unrest in the northern Basque country circulate. The Spanish parliament has begun the process of finding a successor to Adolfo Suarez , who has resigned as prime minister.

Two recent incidents have enabled the Basque separatist organization, ETA, usually isolated from the mainstream of opinion, to exploit public opinion against alleged brutality by the Spanish armed forces. And now, for the first time since the establishment of the Spanish democracy in 1977, the more moderate political wing of the ETA has called for a cease-fire in the Basque region.

The Basque region was brought to a standstill by a general strike Feb. 2, called in protest against the killing of a nuclear engineer, Jose Maria Ryan, by the military wing of ETA (short for Euzkadi la Azkatasuna, Basque Nation and Liberty).

The second incident, Feb. 16, was a strike in protest against the death of a suspected member of the ETA. Jose Arregui died in a Madrid hospital Feb. 13 after being held incommunicado by police for nine days without specific charges brought against him, and without access to a lawyer.

In the wake of strikes set off by these incidents, Spain's ruling politicians have for the first time reacted promptly to the allegations of police torture and have ordered an immediate investigation, turning over five members of the police force to the jurisdiction of the courts.

These developments have had a chain reaction as well. They unleashed protest among senior members of the police. On Feb. 18 the head commissioner, the chief of police intelligence, and the secretary-general of the force all handed in their resignations.

The present volatile situation stems principally from continued infighting in the ruling Spanish party, the Democratic Center Union (UCD), which emerged more divided than ever from its second national congress in Palma last week.

Indeed, the UCD is now so fragmented that even though there is a consensus to back Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, the former vice-minister in charge of economic affairs, when it comes to voting for him as Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez's successor in Parliament Feb. 20, it is extremely doubtful that the party can remain cohesive.

A direct consequence of the disarray of the ruling party is that it is also becoming more difficult to control Spain's most right-wing forces. Proof of this was an open letter published in the neo-fascist daily El Alcazar Feb. 8 in which an Army officer called for a military coup.

The chances of this happening, however, remain remote. The commander in chief of the Spanish armed forces in King Juan Carlos, who is deeply committed to the democratic process; and there are no signs yet that the Army has either a program or a leader.

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