Spain's high court bans second ETA demonstration
Spain's highest court blocked a demonstration planned Saturday in the Basque city of Bilbao in support of ETA's banned political wing Batasuna, two days after forbidding a similar protest.
The National Audience prohibited a demonstration by Batasuna allies Eusko Alkartasuna, saying it "did not differ substantially" from the earlier protest and was designed merely to circumvent Thursday's ruling.
On Thursday, the court had banned a march planned for Saturday by the Adierazi EH group, also Batasuna sympathisers, saying that it aimed to "support the strategy and justify the actions of the terrorist group ETA."
The regional Basque government said on Saturday it would take "preventative and necessary measures" against the protest and police were expected to turn out in force at the location.
The demonstration intended to defend the Basque country's "freedom of expression," referring to a 2003 decision to outlaw Batasuna for its links to the armed Basque separatists ETA.
Last Sunday, ETA announced a halt to "armed offensive actions" via a video recording, but did not say if the ceasefire was definitive.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Tuesday rejected the ceasefire, urging ETA to "give up weapons forever" while Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has said the government will not "change an iota" of its hardline policy against the outfit.
Spanish authorities have always considered Batasuna as an integral part of ETA, despite the group recently appearing to distance itself from the guerrillas.
Batasuna has urged Batasuna to end violence and formed an alliance with the legal, non-violent Eusko Alkartasuna.
South African lawyer Brian Currin, a Batasuna advisor and former Northern Ireland peace negotiator, on Saturday called the ban on the protest an error because the party was putting "unprecedented" pressure on ETA to renounce violence.
In an interview with El Pais newspaper on Saturday, Currin also said that ETA's vague ceasefire was not enough, although it was "an important step forward."
Inigo Urkullu, president of the nationalist Basque party PNV, which ruled the region for 30 years before losing power to the Socialists in 2009, also criticised the ban on Saturday's demonstration, calling it a step backwards and a provocation.
ETA, listed a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, is accused of killing 829 people in a 40-year campaign of bomb and gun attacks to demand independence for the northern Basque region.
© 2010 AFP