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Basque prison number display raises ire in Spain

Published on 24/06/2011

A Basque separatist lawmaker sparked an outcry in some Spanish media Friday with a display of respect for ETA's outlawed political wing as he was sworn in to lead a provincial government.

Lawmaker Martin Garitano of the new pro-independence Basque coalition, Bildu, wore a badge with the prison number of a jailed former leader of ETA’s banned political party, Batasuna, as he took power.

And he ignored requests from other political parties for him to call for the dissolution of ETA, blamed for 829 deaths during a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland.

Garitano’s gesture Thursday caused dismay in some media, particularly in the conservative press already angered by Bildu taking power in a major Basque region, Guipuzcoa.

His swearing-in as president of Guipuzcoa marked the first time the left-wing Basque separatist movement had gained power in any of the three provinces of the Basque Country.

“Yesterday was an ill-fated day in our democracy,” said an editorial in the centre-right daily El Mundo.

The paper said Bildu was clearly linked to Batasuna.

And it fumed over Garitano’s decision to display the prison number of Arnaldo Otegi, a former Batasuna leader jailed for trying to rebuild the party leadership six years after it had been outlawed in 2003.

“Garitano made a clear display that it is no more than a mere link in the Batasuna chain,” El Mundo said.

“And to make it absolutely clear, he wore a badge on his lapel with Otegi’s prison number.”

Bildu took the presidency of the Guipuzcoa region after being allowed to run in local and provincial elections last month.

Bildu won more than a quarter of the vote, making it the second strongest political movement in the north of Spain, while the centre-right nationalist PNV party earned just over 30 percent.

It was able to field candidates in the election only after a lengthy court battle to prove it was not a mouthpiece for ETA.

Ahead of the vote Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed a Supreme Court decision to ban some 250 lists of candidates from the Bildu coalition because of links to Batasuna.