ETA political wing announces new party 'against violence'
The banned political wing of the armed Basque separatist group ETA announced Saturday plans for a new party that will reject the use of violence in the hope of standing in elections next year.
The Batasuna party was banned in 2003 for refusing to condemn deadly violence by ETA in its more than 40-year campaign for independence for the Basque country of northern Spain and southwestern France.
Batasuna activists announced to reporters in the northern city of Pamplona the start of a "new project" that would conform with a law banning parties that "politically support violence and activities of terrorist groups".
It was the 2003 law that led to the banning of the Batasuna.
The new group "will reject the use of violence or the threat of its use to reach political objectives", according to text read out by Rufi Etxeberria, spokesman of the activists in an informal grouping called the Abertzale Left.
"The commitment of this new project to exclusively political and democratic channels should be firm and unequivocal, and not subject to variable tactics or fluctuating factors," said the text.
Etxeberria made no reference to ETA which is held responsible for 829 deaths in its long campaign of bombings and shootings, although it has declared a ceasefire.
Top interior official for the autonomous Basque region, Rodolfo Ares, was sceptical and said that if the Batasuna wanted to become legal, it would have to convince ETA to lay down its arms or break with the group.
Media reported last month that the new party would be unveiled on December 10 and hoped to stand in municipal elections in May 2011.
ETA announced on September 5 it had halted "armed offensive actions" but did not make clear if this was a permanent or temporary move. Two weeks later it called on international mediators to help resolve the decades-old conflict.
The Spanish government said the announcement was insufficient and ETA had to abandon violence definitively and unconditionally.
Jailed Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi said in an interview published on October 17 that ETA should declare a permanent ceasefire as the only way to independence for the Basque region was peaceful and democratic.
Otegi was sentenced to two years in jail for "glorifying" terrorism, according to the courts.
Batasuna hopes for a permanent and verifiable ETA ceasefire by the end of 2010, according to sources close to the group.
The Spanish government believes its campaign against ETA, with dozens of arrests made in cooperation with forces in other countries, particularly France, has seriously weakened ETA's operational capacity.
© 2010 AFP