- Title: SPAIN: Basque separatists ETA declare ceasefire
- Date: 23rd March 2006
- Summary: (EU) BILBAO, SPAIN (MARCH 22, 2006)(REUTERS) BRIDGE OVER RIVER FLAG OF BASQUE COUNTRY STREET SCENE
- Reuters ID: LVA6CTAZ0TCU41SZL67A9FQMC1I3
- Location: Spain
- Country: Spain
- Duration: 00:00:17
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Story Text: The Basque separatist group ETA on Wednesday (March 22 declared a permanent ceasefire after almost four decades of bombings and shootings in Spain during its campaign for independence.
ETA said the truce would start on Friday (March 24) and Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero cautiously welcomed the move, emphasising that a long-awaited peace process would be lengthy and difficult.
ETA, Western Europe's most active separatist group seeking independence on territory in both northern Spain and southwest France, broke two ceasefires in the 1990s.
Three ETA members appeared on state television to announce the new truce, dressed in black berets with white hoods covering their faces. They sat at a table in front of ETA's flag showing a snake twisted around an axe.
A woman seated in the middle, reading from a statement said that "Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) had decided to declare a permanent ceasefire from March 24, 2006.
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.
ETA has killed 850 people and blackmailed thousands of Basque businesses in its fight for independence. Its last fatal attack was in 2003.
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.
"The government position is of caution and prudence. As I have expressed on 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," Zapatero told parliament.
Previously united by horror of violence, Spain would now be united by hope, he said.
"Therefore we are all committed to and engaged in this process. The desire of the government is to count on all political forces, to think first in memory of the victims and all those who have worked and continue working hard to protect our security," said Zapatero
But Mariano Rajoy, Leader of the Popular (Opposition) party, cautioned against talking with ETA.
"It is not possible to negotiate politically or to pay a political price to a terrorist organisation because in that case, terrorism could become an instrument for politics and terrorists would win the battle," said Rajoy.
Zapatero had raised hopes of an ETA truce earlier this year, only for the group -- classed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union -- to start bombing again.
In the northern Spanish port city of Bilbao people spoke of their hopes and fears.
"I think at this moment a situation of hope can be opening and a road to solve the situation that we live in this country. I think we have to be aware of the fact that this can be a historical moment and we have to take advantage of it," said one man.
A woman said she wondered whether to take the news seriously, "I am debating between the doubt of this to be nothing or to be something for real which is what we all need," she said.
And another man was also unsure whether to believe that ETA were serious, "You never know because those people (ETA) who have announced the truce don't have any credibility. You cannot trust their word of course," he said.
ETA's statement made two mentions of France being involved in the future of the Basque Country, although Paris has always refused to get involved in any talks with ETA.
It is unclear quite how many Basques truly want their own state, having voted in a regional government run by the moderate Nationalist Basque Party, which sits in Madrid's parliament.
Since 2003 ETA has set off only small bombs, which have caused damage to buildings but no deaths.
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