Socialist sworn in as first non-nationalist Basque premier
Guernica — Socialist Patxi Lopez, who has vowed to make fighting the armed Basque separatist group ETA his top priority, was sworn in Thursday as first non-nationalist head of the Basque region’s government.
In a break with tradition, Lopez promised to respect the law under an oak tree in the town of Guernica which represents the Basque people with his hand on a copy of the Basque autonomy statute instead of a bible.
"Standing on Basque soil underneath the tree of Guernica, before you representatives of the Basque people, while remembering our ancestors, I promise to respect the law and faithfully carry out my duties," he said.
He also left out the words "humble before God," included in the traditional oath during the ceremony held in the town known for Pablo Picasso’s painting depicting its bombing by Nazi German planes during Spain’s 1936-39 civil war.
The regional parliament in Spain’s northern Basque region on Tuesday elected Lopez, 49, as the head of the region’s first non-nationalist government since the chamber was set up in 1980, five years after the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco.
He was elected with the backing of the 13 lawmakers from the conservative Popular Party and the sole representative from the UPyD party which, together with the 25 seats which his Socialists won in regional elections on March 1, gave him the support of the majority of the 75 lawmakers in the chamber.
Lopez takes over from Juan Jose Ibarretxe of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which had ruled the wealthy northern region bordering France since it got its own regional assembly in 1980.
Before the Basque parliament elected him as premier, he vowed in an address to the chamber to stage a relentless fight against ETA, which has killed 825 people in Spain in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland.
"I will be a premier who will fight ETA day in and day out," he said.
ETA is considered a terrorist organisation by both the European Union and the United States.