Most Spaniards support peace talks with ETA

3rd April 2006, Comments 0 comments

3 April 2006, MADRID — Three-quarters of Spaniards would support prospective peace talks between Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and ETA "if the chance for dialogue exists", an opinion poll found.

3 April 2006

MADRID — Three-quarters of Spaniards would support prospective peace talks between Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and ETA "if the chance for dialogue exists", an opinion poll found.

The survey, which appeared the Spanish daily ABC,  found that 62 percent of those polled said they were hopeful that the "permanent ceasefire" declared by the terrorist group last month would last.

They added that they hoped it would lead to a dialogue with the government that would end ETA's four-decade campaign of violence once and for all.

The telephone poll was conducted from 28-30 March among 1,003 respondents.

Although those surveyed said they were hopeful about the chances for dialogue, they added that they did not support measures benefiting imprisoned ETA members.

Most of the prisoners - 500 of them in Spain and about 200 in France - are serving lengthy terms for terrorist activities, and their situation is one of the most sensitive issues for ETA, which has been decimated in recent years by police and judicial pressure in both countries.

Sixty-six percent of those interviewed said prisoners who have completed most of their sentences should not be considered.

Regarding the idea of transferring the inmates to prisons in the Basque Country, or nearby, 65 percent of those polled said they would favour that under certain conditions.

And 33 percent said they would support moving prisoners after enough time had elapsed to ensure that ETA's ceasefire offer is real.

Thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday night in the streets of Bilbao, the Basque Country's main city, demanding the opening of political talks guaranteeing the right of the Basques to self-determination.

The march was called by mostly nationalist Basque political parties and unions, among them the banned Batasuna, ETA's political arm.

Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi, who is in Madrid's Soto del Real prison awaiting the collection of funds to pay the EUR 250,000 bail imposed upon him by a court on March 29.

Otegi - whom many see as a key figure in any potential peace dialogue - is accused of recently promoting acts of vandalism during a 9 March 'general strike' in the Basque Country over the deaths of two imprisoned ETA members.

Since taking office in April 2004, Zapatero has been laying the groundwork for a peace process, getting Parliament's approval for contacts with ETA if the group renounced violence and authorizing the Socialist leader in the Basque region, Jesus Eguiguren, to hold "discreet" conversations with Otegi.

It seems the Zapatero administration has had "informal" contacts with ETA going back to August 2004, when, according to the Madrid daily El Pais, the armed group sent the government a letter requesting the establishment of two-way communications.

The premier has been careful to prepare Spanish public opinion for possible talks with ETA, most recently in February when Rodriguez Zapatero said conditions were ripe for expecting "the beginning of the end" of separatist violence.

ETA has killed 817 people since 1968 in its quest to carve out a Socialist and independent Basque state from parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

The regional Basque government is headed by moderate nationalists who repeatedly condemned ETA and the use of violence for political ends.

But the moderates also are seeking what they call "sovereignty" without a complete break from Spain, and have vowed to hold a referendum on the way to attaining that goal.

Anthropologists recognize the Basque people, who number some 7 million in both Spain and France, as an ethnic group distinct from those surrounding it, and the Basque language is not a Romance one, as are Spanish and French.

The origin of the Basque people is thus somewhat mysterious. Despite academic debate on their far-back roots, it is widely believed that the Basques have occupied a single region of Europe longer than any other identifiable ethnic group.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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