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Outlawed ETA group forms new party, rejects violence

The outlawed political wing of armed Basque separatists ETA announced Monday its rebirth as a new party that rejects violence and intends to contest elections.

Batasuna has been ruled illegal since 2003 because of its links to ETA, whose bloody battle for a Basque homeland independent of Spain has been blamed for 829 deaths in more than four decades.

The outlawed party has previously said it opposes violence without actually condemning ETA’s violent past.

The new party, which aims to contest local elections in May, “rejects and opposes the use of violence… including that of ETA,” announced Basque nationalist Rufi Etxeberria, an historic leader of Batasuna.

“It is therefore an explicit rejection of violence,” Etxeberria said in Bilbao. “This is a direct consequence of our commitment to exclusively political and democratic routes.”

The new principles were enshrined in the new statutes of the party, the Batasuna leader added in his televised appearance.

“These new statutes are in order to reclaim our legal status,” he said. “There is no going back.”

Batasuna plans to present the new statutes to Spain’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday.

Spain’s government has shown deep scepticism about Batasuna’s conversion; it demands that Batasuna convince ETA to disarm permanently and unconditionally or that it break with ETA completely.

If the ministry refuses to accept the party’s new statutes, as seems likely, the courts would have to decide.

ETA on January 10 declared a “permanent and general ceasefire” to be verified by the international community.

But this, too, was received with scepticism in much of Spain, largely because the statement made no mention of disarming, and it contained political demands that assumed a negotiating role for ETA.

Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been extremely prudent in its dealings with ETA, scarred by the memories of its attempt to negotiate with the group five years ago.

ETA announced a “permanent ceasefire” in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

In any case, the Spanish authorities believe ETA has been severely weakened after its security forces, helped by other countries, particularly France, captured top leaders in a series of raids.

There has been no attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

Companies in the Basque Country have told AFP that they have had no extortion demands from ETA — previously a major source of its financing — since the January 10 ceasefire.

Analysts say ETA may turn to arms again if Batasuna fails to regain its legal status.

“They could try to go back to violence if they don’t obtain anything, but in a greatly weakened state,” said Basque Country University professor Francisco Jose Llera.

Other analysts agreed.

ETA “has no intention of abandoning arms or dissolving itself, so we cannot rule out any attack,” said Edurne Uriarte, political analyst at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

“It will not go back to being the terrorist group of before,” however, he added, describing the group as “enormously weakened.”