Basque separatist leader jailed in Spain

17th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spain's leading anti-terrorist judge Friday remanded into custody a leader of the banned political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA for allegedly seeking to rebuild the party.

Madrid - Spain's leading anti-terrorist judge Friday remanded into custody a leader of the banned political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA for allegedly seeking to rebuild the party.

Judge Baltasar Garzon ordered the former spokesman of Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi, held along with four others, according to a copy of the ruling.

The five were among 10 suspected Basque radicals arrested on Tuesday in the northern Basque Country and the neighbouring Navarra region in a crackdown on Batasuna, ETA's banned political wing.

Also among the five remanded into custody Friday was the secretary general of the LAB union, Rafael Diez Usabiaga, a well-known figure in the Basque independence movement.

Garzon Friday accused them of "belonging to a terrorist organisation" and seeking to rebuild Batasuna on the orders of ETA.

He charged Otegi was the head of the new leadership of Batasuna, which intended to seek new negotiations with the government, while ETA continued it campaign of violence.

The five others arrested on Tuesday were released, three of them on bail.

Batasuna was banned in 2003 because of its supposed links with ETA, which is held responsible for 828 deaths in a 41-year campaign for independence for the Basque Country of northern Spain and southwestern France.

In mid-2007 ETA called off a 15-month-old ceasefire following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with the Spain's central government in Madrid.

Since then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has taken a hard line against it, repeatedly ruling out new negotiations while a string of operations by Spanish and French police have weakened ETA's leadership.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on Wednesday warned ETA the government would frustrate any attempts to rebuild Batasuna.

"While there is violence, there will be no party in Spain that supports it or justifies it. Security forces will systematically prevent it," the minister said.

Otegi was last jailed in June 2007 after the Supreme Court upheld a 15-month sentence for "glorifying terrorism" for praising veteran ETA leader Jose Miguel Benaran Ordenana at a memorial service in 2003.

A Spanish judge earlier this month ordered him to again stand trial for "glorifying terrorism" in another case from 2004.

Basque nationalist unions, including LAB, and political parties have called for demonstrations in the Basque city of San Sebastian on Saturday to protest the latest arrests.

AFP/Expatica

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