Basque militant group ETA ends four decades of separatist violence

The Basque militant group ETA, which has fought a separatist battle against both Spain and France, announced that it was laying down its arms after a lengthy campaign that has killed nearly 900 people.

Three members of Basque militant group ETA call for a definitive end to 50 years of armed struggle, which has cost the lives of at least 850 people, in this still image taken from an undated video published on the website of Basque language newspaper Gara on Thursday.

The Spanish terrorist group ETA ended Thursday after almost half a century of separatist violence that has killed nearly 900. The announcement set off celebrations, even if it was long expected after years in which the group has been crippled militarily and cast aside politically.

“Ours will be a democracy without terrorist but not without memory,” said Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero late Thursday, an hour after ETA announced its “definite cessation of its armed activity.” The frontrunners in November general elections also cheered the announcement.

“The memory of the victims, each one of those 829 mortal victims and their families, of so many injured that suffered … will accompany us forever,” Mr. Zapatero said.

ETA – which has fought for an independent Basque territory against Spain and France - said its “historic declaration shows its clear, firm, and definitive compromise.” In its statement, released by a Basque newspaper, it also called on both countries to “open up a process of direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation.”

From political groups to victims, Spaniards celebrated an end to decades of terror, often directed at civilian centers, like supermarket and residential buildings. A few demanded that the announcement be followed up with a rendition of weapons.

After months of police pressure in Spain, France, and Portugal, ETA’s demise came politically. For years, Basques have grown mistrustful and grassroot support for the group has diminished.

The coup de grace came first in May with the Constitutional Court’s decision to let Bildu, a nationalist, pro-independence party, including ETA’s political wing, run in municipal elections, but only after renouncing violence and condemning ETA.

The group made a good showing in Basque elections, exposing just how much ETA has lost a raison d’être.

In late June, the public face of ETA’s political wing, Arnaldo Otegui, jailed for supporting terrorism, also turned its back on the group and said its more militant base had made a mistake by ending peace negotiations with the government in 2006, when it bombed the parking lot of Madrid’s main airport.

Last weekend, international leaders, including former United Nation Secretary General Koffi Annan, joined Basque and Spanish leaders in San Sebastian to demand an end of ETA violence, raising expectations an announcement was forthcoming.

Leaders from throughout the world have sent their congratulatory messages for the historic decision.

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