Zapatero offers Basques road map to peace
14 April 2005, MADRID - Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero offered Spain's restless Basque region a deal ahead of regional elections there Sunday, promising political reform in return for a 'road map' to give up violence. The Basque region, with a population of 2.1 million, has been the scene of four decades of bloodshed, with armed pro-separatist group ETA blamed for more than 800 deaths since it launched a violent campaign in the late 1960s to win statehood.
14 April 2005
MADRID - Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero offered Spain's restless Basque region a deal ahead of regional elections there Sunday, promising political reform in return for a 'road map' to give up violence.
The Basque region, with a population of 2.1 million, has been the scene of four decades of bloodshed, with armed pro-separatist group ETA blamed for more than 800 deaths since it launched a violent campaign in the late 1960s to win statehood.
Zapatero told the Spanish Cadena Ser radio that he saw next Sunday's vote as an opportunity to mould a peaceful future.
He promised that if two thirds of the Basque parliament was also in favour, he would support upgraded autonomy by revising existing statutes governing the relationship between Madrid and the regions.
"I am convinced that most of Euskadi [the Basque country] wants to take this opportunity to do away with years of confrontation, to enter a new era. In my view, an end to violence is closer than ever," Zapatero said.
"ETA knows it will not achieve its goals through violence," Zapatero insisted, calling on voters to "embark on a road map for Euskadi".
Radical pro-independence voters are furious that Spanish courts have removed hardline nationalist parties from the electoral process, leaving the ruling moderate nationalist coalition poised to score a clear victory, according to latest opinion polls.
The polls show the coalition, dominated by the Nationalist Basque Party (PNV) of Juan Jose Ibarretxe (the 'Lehendakari' or president of the Basque autonomous government) could win an absolute majority, unprecedented since the first regional election 25 years ago.
Ibarretxe is behind a controversial plan to upgrade existing substantial autonomy from Madrid to 'free association' status, but Spain's mainstream parties have rejected what they see as a threat to national cohesion.
Zapatero insisted that "Euskadi needs a Lehendakari who abandons the language of nationalism".
In all, some 1.8 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the region, which is divided into the provinces of Alava, Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya.
Each province elects 25 legislators on a four-year mandate.
Opinion polls have consistently shown the PNV and its partners - Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) and the Basque section of the ecologist and pro-communist United Left (IU-EB) - winning enough to secure a majority of the 75 seats.
Such a result would strengthen Ibarretxe's hand as he seeks to call a referendum on his free association plan.
Ibarretxe told Telecinco television on Thursday that the election would open "a process of negotiation [with Madrid] ... to usher in a process culminating in the political normalisation of the country".
The run-up to the campaign has been shrouded in controversy after Spain's supreme court earlier this month rejected an appeal by pro-independence party, Aukera Guztiak, against a ban on standing in the election on the grounds that it is deemed close to ETA.
The move followed the banning two years ago of Batasuna, regarded as the political wing of ETA and which is branded a terrorist organisation by the the European Union and the US State Department.
A joint crackdown by Spanish and French police in recent months has triggered a wave of arrests of senior ETA figures, seriously sapping the group's morale.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news