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Basque leftists' foray into politics meets deep skepticism in Spain

A political party with ties to the Basque separatist group ETA is seeking official recognition in order to field political candidates in upcoming elections.

By Correspondent / February 9, 2011

Sinn Fein member Alex Maskey (center l.) speaks alongside spokesman Inaki Zabaleta, centre (r.) during a news conference to promote the new Basque political party Sortu in Madrid, on Feb. 9.

Paul White/AP

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Madrid, Spain

The political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA requested Wednesday to register an official political party, which if approved would allow it to field candidates in May elections.

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While the request requires approval of Spain's Supreme Court, public opinion is divided over whether the move is a breakthrough that will lead to the end of Basque terrorism or an ETA scheme to infiltrate public institutions.

The Spanish government said it is up to the court to decide whether the new party, called Sortu, a Basque word that translates as “to create,” can gain official status, or if it's too closely connected with ETA, which has killed more than 825 people in 51 years of fighting for independence from Spain.

ETA's political wing, which is known as Batasuna, was banned in 2003 and has unsuccessfully tried adopting other names in the past. Many of its political activists have been disqualified from politics or jailed for supporting terrorism.

Sortu rejects ETA violence

That pressure has been instrumental in ETA’s demise, analysts agree, and could have widened the divide between Basque militants and political activists. A year ago, Batasuna publicly asked ETA to declare a cease-fire in a peace drive supported by a group of international mediators that included four Nobel Peace Prize laureates. A truce was declared in September, followed by a permanent cease-fire in January.

But it’s unclear whether Batasuna, or Sortu, has broken with ETA.

“Sortu is not a succession of Batasuna or of anyone else,” says Iñaki Zabaleta, a journalism professor in the Universidad del País Vasco who read a party statement and identified himself as a “promoter” of the new party. “Credibility needs to be earned. We ask for a chance.”

After numerous false promises and broken cease-fires, though, few are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the rebranded Batasuna, which in its statutes claims it wants to end all types of violence, with a specific mention of ETA.

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Spain’s deputy prime minister and Interior minister, said Batasuna has “minimal” credibility, while adding that this “is the first time in many years” that it “has explicitly rejected violence.” But he warned “we have a long way to go and in the meantime I do not want anyone to forget that ETA has yet to declare a definitive end to violence.”

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