VARIOUS: Basque separatist group ETA declares permanent ceasefire after almost four decades of bombings and...
- Title: VARIOUS: Basque separatist group ETA declares permanent ceasefire after almost four decades of bombings and shootings in Spain
- Date: 23rd March 2006
- Summary: CLOSE OF (SOUNDBITE) (French) JEAN-FRANCOIS LEFORT, SPOKESMAN FOR BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONERS ASSOCIATION SAYING : "No, it is not a great surprise, it is a political change. For nearly two years, the separatist movement tried to put in place a democratic process and today it is a turning point. Today, the ball is in France and Spain's court. It is up to them to grab this opportunity to put in place a democratic process which will end with the possibility for the Basque people to decide on their future."
- Reuters ID: LVAB4RDEY3Q2J6U7HBWOIDVMMYZH
- Duration: 00:00:32
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- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Domestic Politics
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- Story Text: After almost 40 years of bombings and shootings in a fight for home rule Basque separatist group ETA on Wednesday (March 22) declared a permanent ceasefire in its struggle for independence from Spain.
The ceasefire will take effect from Friday (March 24), the first step in a long-awaited peace process with ETA, which has killed 850 people since 1968 in its fight to carve an independent state in the region.
Three members of ETA, which wants to carve an independent state out of northern Spain and southwest France, appeared on state television in black berets, white hoods over their faces.
An unidentified female member of the organization made the announcement in the video sent to Basque Television.
"Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) has decided to declare a permanent ceasefire from March 24, 2006. The object of this decision is to drive the democratic process in the Basque country in order to construct a new framework in which our rights as a people will be recognised and to ensure the future development of all political options. At the end of the process, Basque citizens should have their say and decide on their future," the spokeswoman said.
A ceasefire could open the way to talks with Spain's Socialist government, which is far more inclined to cede more power to Spain's regions than the previous conservative one.
Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who last May offered talks to ETA if it gave up violence, cautiously welcomed the move, emphasising that a long-awaited peace process would be lengthy and difficult.
"The government position is of caution and prudence. As I have expressed in one occasion and today I reiterate before this chamber, this, like all peace processes after so many years of horror is going to be long and difficult -- difficult and long. Therefore we are all committed to and engaged in this process," said Zapatero.
Recently, the group classed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and Washington has been weakened by arrests and legal moves against Batasuna, the outlawed Basque party seen as its political wing.
Representatives of ETA's banned political party Herri Batasuna on Wednesday welcomed the announcement made by the Basque separatist group to declare permanent ceasefire.
Batasuna spokesman Fernando Barrena described the announcement as a historical decision.
"We want to say that we are in front of a decision of an enormous political importance, a very brave and engaging decision, definitely a decision to construct an scenario of political solutions and to move a democratic process forward in the context of Euskalerria (Basque Country)," Barrena told media at a news conference held at a hotel in the Basque city of San Sebastian.
In Bayonne, French Basque country, Jean-Francois Lefort, spokesman for the Basque Political Prisoners Association stressed that the truce was not really a surprise but a political change in a favourable context.
"It is not a great surprise, it is a political change. For nearly two years, the separatist movement tried to put in place a democratic process and today it is a turning point. Today, the ball is in France and Spain's court. It is up to them to grab this opportunity to put in place a democratic process which will end with the possibility for the Basque people to decide on their future," said Jean-Francois Lefort who spent one year in prison for holding arms.
But Lefort said that with such a ceasefire the anti-terrorist laws should be deactivated.
ETA has been weakened in recent years by a police crackdown with hundreds of arrests in France and Spain. It also lost support after the 2004 Madrid train bombings, when Spaniards recoiled in horror at the killing of 191 people by suspected Islamist fundamentalists.
The origin of the Basque people is shrouded in mystery. It is widely believed that the Basques have occupied a single region of Europe longer than any other identifiable ethnic group.
The Basque Country, a semi-autonomous region in northern Spain, is home to 2.1 million people. The Basques are an indigenous people who inhabit parts of both Spain and France. Basques are predominantly found in an area known as the Basque Country and the neighbouring region of Navarre and in three provinces of southwest France.
In 1959, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which means Basque Homeland and Freedom in the Basque language, emerged as a student resistance movement against Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who tried to destroy Basque language and culture during his 36-year rule.
Classed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, ETA previously declared a full ceasefire in September 1998. The group rescinded the ceasefire in December 1999.
In June 2005 the Basque region's nationalist premier, Juan Jose Ibarretxe formed a government after several months of negotiations with a new radically nationalist party.
Ibarretxe's nationalist coalition failed to win a majority at regional elections in April last year but then received parliamentary support to form a government.
This victory defeated a bid from Spain's ruling Socialist party and the centre-right opposition Popular Party to end nearly two decades of nationalist rule in Basque region.
Ibarretxe's own plan to "share" sovereignty in the Basque region with Spain was defeated in the Spanish parliament last year and was effectively shelved after his party's subsequent poor electoral showing in the regional vote.
Recently, ETA has set off only small bombs which have caused slight damage and no deaths have occurred since 2003.
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- Embargoed:7th April 2006 13:00