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Basque ETA separatists taking up arms again

The militant group blames the government for a 'failed peace process,' prompting fears of an 'imminent' attack in Spain.

By Staff writer / June 5, 2007



Almost 15 months after declaring a permanent ceasefire with the Spanish government, the Basque separatist group ETA has announced it will take up arms again as of midnight Tuesday.

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Basque country broadcaster eitb24 reports that in a statement published in two Basque newspapers, ETA declared that it is ending its ceasefire because "minimum democratic conditions" for negotiating peace with the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero "do not exist."

[ETA] blamed Zapatero for the failure of the peace process, and contended that the Basque leg of local elections on May 27 were illegitimate because most pro-independence politicians that wanted to run were barred by Spanish courts on grounds of links to ETA's outlawed political wing, Batasuna. The pro-independence movement had called these elections a key part of the peace process.

"Zapatero's character has turned into a fascism that left parties and citizens without rights," ETA said. Zapatero will address the nation later Tuesday, his office said.

ETA reiterated assertions that despite its having called the cease-fire, the Spanish judicial system continued to arrest and hold trials of ETA members and suspects. In the past, it has suggested the government committed itself to going easy on the pro-independence movement while negotiations were under way.

The translated statement from ETA is available on the eitb24 website. ETA, whose name is a Basque acronym for "Basque Homeland and Freedom," began fighting for a Basque nation in the 1960s during the reign of Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship. The group continued to commit acts of violence, including bombings and assassinations, after Spain's turn to democracy in the 1970s. It is considered a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States.

The ETA statement was quickly condemned by Mr. Zapatero, reports Reuters.

"ETA's decision is absolutely the opposite of what Basque and Spanish society want: the road to peace," Zapatero told reporters.

"Spanish society has shown over a long period that pain does not sap its strength, that suffering does not reduce its determination," he said.

Zapatero's government had cautiously welcomed the ETA cease-fire when it was announced last March, andreportedly held secret peace talks with the group in Norway late last year. But Spain cut off contact with ETA in December, after the group blew up a garage at a Madrid airport, killing two Ecuadorean men.

The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur writes that even before the ETA announcement, police experts had warned of an "imminent" attack by the group, which they believe rearmed during the ceasefire.

ETA now has a top capacity to make explosives and car bombs, and can maintain "a constant level of threat" in the entire country, according to the daily El Pais.

ETA currently has an estimated 300 members including dozens of potential gunmen and bombers based on the French side of the border.

The group's weak point is believed to be finance, for which reason it has stepped up its demands to entrepreneurs, requesting "contributions" of up to 150,000 euros (200,000 dollars).

The group is further undermined, writes Reuters, by ebbing public support for its cause, even in Basque country. In particular, the Madrid train bombings in 2004 by suspected Islamic terrorists "increased public revulsion against terrorism," according to security officials, sapping sympathy for ETA. Nonetheless, Spain is bracing for a new ETA campaign of violence.

"They will probably stage attacks, it's possible they might carry out assassinations," said Pello Salaburu, former rector of the Basque Country University, who added that he thought the group was doomed by falling levels of support.

"They don't understand how much people hate them," Salaburu said. "They live on another planet." ...

Most Basques do not want to secede from Spain, polls show, and the Basque Country already enjoys considerable autonomy.

The Guardian notes that with the end of the ceasefire, ETA becomes "the only significant armed political group left active within the European Union."

In the wake of the ETA announcement, France – part of which ETA claims for a Basque state – reaffirmed its solidarity with Spain against terrorism, reports eitb24. French officials noted, however, that they consider ETA to be a Spanish concern.

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