Thousands protest in Bilbao over conditions for ETA prisoners
Tens of thousands of supporters of incarcerated ETA members took to the streets of Bilbao Saturday to push for the transfer of prisoners to jails nearer their homes -- a key demand made by the Basque separatist group when it laid down arms in 2011.
Shouting "Independence!" and "Amnesty now!" supporters at the march which is held every year lined the city centre for about a kilometre.
On the sides of vans in the procession were marked the long distances prisoners are living from their homes.
Aurore Martin, a French Basque activist released on bail in Spain on December 22 after being held on charges of participating in a terrorist organisation, told AFP she was "very impressed at the size of the protest".
Martin had allegedly taken part in public meetings in the country as a member of the Basque nationalist party Batasuna.
Led by a red bus emblazoned with the slogan "Euskal Tresoak Euskal Herrira" -- meaning Basque prisoners to the Basque country -- the families of prisoners walked, clasping a large torch symbolising their hope of having their relatives return home.
"I hope that the Spanish government will act but it is hard," said 75-year-old Begonia Macazadar whose cousin is in jail near Paris.
"We will not have peace as long as this issue of prisoners remains unresolved as it is the key to solving the conflict."
According to the Basque prisoners' association Herrira which organised the march, 607 of ETA's 700 members are behind bars in France, Spain, Portugal and the UK. On average, they live 750 kilometres from their homes, the association said.
Thirteen prisoners are "seriously ill", Herrira added.
Classed as a terrorist group by the European Union, ETA is blamed for hundreds of deaths during a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France.
Last year, it said it had abandoned violence but has yet to formally disarm. The Spanish government has refused to hold talks with its leaders.
Last year's march in Bilbao drew 110,000, according to organisers.
© 2013 AFP