Thousands of Basques urge end to ban on nationalist demos
Thousands of demonstrators from Basque nationalist parties, trade unions and social groups marched across the city of Bilbao Saturday to call for an end to court-ordered bans on street protests.
The protesters, some of whom shouted "independence", marched behind banners reading in the Basque language: "Yes to human, civil and political rights," and "No to the ban on demonstrations."
The protest follows the decision by a Spanish court to ban two nationalist demonstrations last month in Bilbao, the Basque Country's financial capital.
The first was called by a group known as Adierazi EH, believed to be close to Batasuna, the banned political wing of the armed Basque separatist group ETA, because the court said the protest would "support" and "justify" the actions of "the terrorist organisation ETA."
The court then banned another demonstration calling for "freedom of expression" scheduled for the same time in the same place, saying it "is not substantially different" from the original protest.
Saturday's march included representatives of the moderate Basque Nationalist Party, which led the regional government for 30 years before losing power in elections last year, and an organisation that supports the families of ETA prisoners, Etxerat.
ETA is blamed for 829 deaths in its 42-year campaign for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.
The Spanish government has vowed to eradicate ETA unless it unilaterally and unconditionally renounces violence and disarms.
It has rejected a series of ETA statements in past weeks offering a ceasefire under the right conditions.
© 2010 AFP