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Ibarretxe threatens independence referendum

2 February 2005

MADRID – The Basque regional prime minister threatened to hold a referendum on his independence plan despite its resounding rejection by the Spanish parliament.

Juan Jose Ibarretxe saw his plan for greater independence from Madrid defeated by 313 votes against 29 in favour.

The vote, which had been widely expected, came a month after Ibarretxe held talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero which made little headway, while opinion polls showed even the Basque people themselves are divided on the merits of the so-called ‘Ibarretxe Plan’.

Ibarretxe has now threatened to hold a referendum on the issue, despite the fact he may be arrested for holding an illegal vote.

The wealthy but restless Basque region, the scene of separatist violence costing more than 800 lives over four decades, already enjoys substantial autonomy from Madrid but the Ibarretxe Plan would see that upgraded to “free association” status.

The plan has appalled the mainstream political establishment and the main parties were set to vote massively against the project once barretxe had spoken.

The debate took place in the Spanish parliament amid signals from armed separatist Basque group ETA that it would like to start dialogue with Spain’s central government after decades of political violence to achieve independence for the northern region.

But ETA has so far refused to renounce its violence and has already carried out two bomb attacks in recent days, one on Sunday just 48 hours ahead of Tuesday’s debate.

Spain’s mainstream parties, both the Socialists in power and the conservative opposition, are hostile to the plan, not least because they fear it could lead to similar claims by other regions.

The northeastern region of Catalonia in particular has a strong pro-independence streak and revels in the autonomy which it already enjoys under the 1978 constitution drawn up on the restoration of democracy after the death of military dictator General Franco in 1975.

Mainstream parties see a successful Basque attempt at winning free association status as potentially opening the floodgates and as unconstitutional.

Under Ibarretxe’s blueprint, the Basque region would have its own legal system and its own representation abroad in organisations including the European Union.

The constitution invests sovereignty in the Spanish people as a whole, but not its constituent regions.

Late Monday, Spain’s Constitutional Tribunal rejected an attempt by Basque
nationalist groups, including Ibarretxe’s moderates, to have Tuesday’s debate
extended to a full commission of inquiry comprising Basque and national lawmakers.

Ibarretxe, a 46 year-old economist, is leader of the Basque ruling PNV party, a moderate nationalist party opposed to violence.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news