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ETA criticise plan forBasque sovereignty

5 December 2003

BILBAO – The armed Basque separatist group ETA criticised an ambitious plan by the Basque government to distance the region from the central Spanish government and become a free associated state.

In a statement published Friday in the regional daily Gara, ETA described the so-called Ibarretxe Plan as a “fraud”” which would not advance the three-province region’s independence.

The controversial plan put forward by the Basque prime minister, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, plans to strengthen the powers of the region, giving it direct representation to the European Union and its own courts. Madrid would still be in charge of defence.

Ibarretxe has argued it would help put an end to ETA terrorism which has claimed around 850 lives over the past 35 years.

But it has met with severe criticism from prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and all the other main Spanish political parties.

Ibarretxe has been threatened with jail if he stages a referrendum on the plan.

According to the ETA statement, the plan “begins and ends within the current autonomy framework” for the Basque country which already enjoys more autonomous powers than any other region in Europe.

ETA, a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, is fighting for an independent state encompassing the three provinces, neighboring Navarra and the four Basque provinces of southwestern France.

The Basque people already have their own police force, education and health systems and other powers.

The ETA statement came a day after police in France arrested Ibon Fernandez de Iradi, the allegedly ETA military chief who escaped almost a year ago from a French prison.

Fernandez de Iradi and two suspected ETA members arrested with him were taken on Friday to Bordeaux for interrogation, French police sources said.

Under French anti-terrorism laws, the police can hold suspects for four days before bringing charges. EFE

Iradi, 32, had escaped custody in December 2002 by squeezing through the skylight window of a French police cell.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes congratulated French police on the “large-scale operation” that led to Thursday’s capture.

Last month Spanish police arrested 12 suspected ETA members in the Basque region.


Subject: Spanish news