Eta political wing calls on group to lay down arms
Separatists urged to stop attacks and help lift Batasuna Party ban
The political wing of Eta, the Basque separatist group, will today make an historic call for the organisation to lay down its arms after 40 years, so that peace negotiators can get to work.
The call is a further sign of a growing rift between Eta and those who have traditionally spoken for the terrorist group, as it slides towards insignificance. It is seen as the first time Eta's frontmen in the nationalist Batasuna party have dared to issue directions to the group.
In an interview to be published today by Berria, a Basque-language newspaper, Rufino Etxeberria, a separatist leader, said that attempts by himself and others close to Eta to bring separatism back to the centre of Basque politics include a peace process that would require the group to stop its attacks.
"We consider that the process has to be done without violence, which means, of course, that it will have to happen without any armed activity by Eta," he said.
Mr Etxeberria added that a new political strategy, drawn up by representatives of what is known as the abertzale (patriotic) separatist left, seeks progress by "peaceful and democratic"means.
"That means without armed actions by Eta, and without violence or interference by the Spanish state."
Mr Etxeberria was released from prison on bail recently while charges of co-operation with Eta are investigated.
Commentators saw his comments as an attempt by Eta's political allies to have their parties declared legal. Batasuna, the main pro-Eta party, was banned in 2003 and although it was replaced by similar parties, Spain's courts have also banned these.
The socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, saw the move as an attempt to allow Batasuna to stand at municipal and provincial elections next year.
The party used to win 10 per cent or more of the vote and held the balance of power in the Basque parliament, usually backing moderate nationalists. But the last regional elections, in March 2009, produced a radical change in Basque politics. With no pro-Eta party able to stand, the balance of power shifted away from the nationalists for the first time since the Basque country won considerable autonomy in 1979.
Mr Zapatero's Socialists formed a government backed by the right-wing People's party. The prime minister has vowed not to restart talks without Eta first declaring a permanent end to violence. Eta has killed more than 850 people over four decades.
As recently as two weeks ago, Portuguese police seized half a tonne of explosives belonging to the Eta being stored.in the central Portuguese town of Obidos.