French, Spanish police make raid on Basques

20th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

MADRID, June 20, 2006 (AFP) - Twelve people including one of the founders of the Basque separatists ETA were arrested Tuesday in pre-dawn raids in Spain and France, in a crackdown on illegal financing of the armed group, police in both countries said.

MADRID, June 20, 2006 (AFP) - Twelve people including one of the founders of the Basque separatists ETA were arrested Tuesday in pre-dawn raids in Spain and France, in a crackdown on illegal financing of the armed group, police in both countries said.

Spanish anti-terrorism officials said the raids had struck a fatal blow to ETA's funding apparatus, dismantling an extortion racket which Spain says has targeted Basque businesses for the past two decades.

The Spanish government vowed the raids would not derail the planned opening of negotiations with ETA, which declared a permanent ceasefire in March following a four-decade campaign for independence that claimed 800 lives.

But Arnaldo Otegi, spokesman for ETA's political wing Batasuna, denounced the crackdown as a "frontal attack on Basque society's hopes for peace".

French police said they had raided locations in six towns and cities in the Pyrenées-Atlantiques region next to the Spanish border, including Bayonne and Biarritz, arresting five men and two women.

Five people were also arrested in coordinated raids on the Spanish side of the border, a Spanish national police spokesman said. Cadena Ser radio said the raids had taken place in northern Spain.

The operation was ordered by a French and a Spanish judge, as part of a Spanish probe launched in 1998, and carried out by a joint Franco-Spanish unit set up two years ago to tackle Basque separatist violence.

The 12 suspects are accused of extorting a so-called "revolutionary tax" from local businesses in the Basque region straddling the French-Spanish border to support ETA's armed campaign for independence.

From southern France and Spain, the network negotiated with businessmen on the ETA "tax", collected payments and channelled them towards various tax havens, according to Spanish police.

Investigators have confiscated goods worth EUR 700,000, including a hotel and more than 50 bank accounts in Spain and France.

Searches were continuing Tuesday at 14 locations in Spain — including the Basque town of Irun and Alicante in the south of the country — as well as six locations in France.

Those arrested include the man suspected of running the racket, 53-year-old Angel Iturbe Abasolo, whose brother Domingo Iturbe was the separatist group's leader in the mid-1980s.

Julen Madariaga, 73, one of a group of Basque far-left Marxists who co-founded ETA in 1959, was also detained in his French hometown of Saint Pee sur Nivelle near the Spanish border.

Madariaga had publicly broken with ETA's armed campaign following a spell in jail in the 1990s and claimed to belong to the pro-independence group Aralar, a non-violent offshoot of Batasuna.

The crackdown came as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was poised to announce the opening of negotiations with ETA — on condition that it renounces all violence and criminal activity.

Despite the angry reaction from Batasuna, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a press conference the operation raised "no obstacle hindering the peace process which the government wishes to pursue".

Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar meanwhile said the raids "demonstrated that the state's institutions in charge of terrorist networks are working normally".

He said the operation "does nothing to alter the government's responsibility to seize a historic opportunity to put a final stop to ETA's violence and its acts of intimidation such as racketeering."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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