A turning point in Basque history

A turning point in Basque history

7th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

One day after a first non-nationalist president of the Basque Government was elected in nearly 30 years, a bomb exploded causing material damage but no victims.

VITORIA – The regional parliament in Spain's troubled Basque Country on Tuesday turned the page on nearly 30 years of rule by nationalists with the election of a socialist head of government.

Socialist Patxi Lopez was elected as the head of the region’s first non-nationalist government since the chamber was set up in 1980.

A day later, two bombs were found. One bomb exploded near a television relay station in northern Spain, causing material damage but no victims, following a warning note from the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

Police received a call warning that a second bomb was by another nearby relay station in Castro Urdiales in Cantabria in northern Spain, which is close to the Basque Country, the spokeswoman told AFP. 

The first bomb was found by a hiker who said he found a sign placed near the relay station containing an ETA symbol that warned of a presence of an explosive device nearby.

AFP PHOTO/Rafa Rivas

 A Telefonica representative points at a television relay station where a bomb exploded on 6 May 2009, in La Granja mountain pass, 90 km from the northern Spanish city of Santander.

Tough times ahead

In his address to the chamber before the vote Lopez, 49, said the "priority task" of his government would be the fight against ETA which has killed 825 people in Spain its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque homeland.

"We are closer to the end of ETA but we have not arrived at that point yet," he said in a reference to a recent wave of arrests of members of the outfit in Spain as well as across the border in France.

Meanwhile, ETA had warned in its latest statement that Lopez's government would be its "priority target".

At the end of April Spanish police said the detained ETA's suspected military operations chief, Jurdan Martitegi, was preparing a bomb attack at the investiture of the next Basque regional government.

Changes in Basque Country

Lopez will head a minority government without forming an official coalition with the PP, which on the national level has been fiercely critical of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, also a socialist.

His government plans to abolish subsidies for associations representing imprisoned ETA members, ban public tributes to members of the outfit and provide Basque police with more means to fight the group.

It also intends to halt a programme aimed at making Basque the main language in school, and give children the option to study mainly in Spanish if their families want them to.

Weather maps on Basque public television will no longer show "the Greater Basque Country", embracing both the Spanish and France Basque countries and the Spanish province of Navarra, but only Euskadi, the Spanish Basque Country.

 AFP PHOTO/Rafa Rivas

 Newly elected president of the Basque regional government, socialist Patxi Lopez (bottom C) aknowledges applause from parlamentarians at the Basque parliament, on 5 May 2009, in the northern Spanish Basque city of Vitoria.

"All the measures which the Basque government adopted, openly or implicitly, in defence of the Basque identity will end," radio Cadena Ser commentator and essayist Jose Maria Ridao told AFP ahead of the vote.

Lopez also vowed to end the politics of "confrontation" of his predecessor, Juan Jose Ibarretxe of the PNV who had been battling with the central government to hold a referendum among Basques on the region's links with the rest of Spain.
"I am not going to govern just for some but for all," he said.

Ibarretxe announced just before the assembly voted that he was retiring from politics.

"What will change, aside from the policies that the government of Patxi Lopez will adopt, is the idea that power in the Basque Country is the exclusive inheritance of the PNV," Florencio Dominguez, a journalist and author of several books on Basque issues, told AFP before the vote.

Coming to power

As expected, Lopez was voted by the 13 lawmakers from the conservative Popular Party and the sole representative from the UPyD party, whose socialists captured 25 seats in regional elections held on 1 March.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which had ruled the wealthy northern region bordering France since 1980, captured 30 seats in the election, the most of any single party but less than the three non-nationalist parties combined.

 AFP PHOTO/Rafa Rivas

 Leader of Basque Socialist Party PSE-PSOE Patxi Lopez (R) arrives at the Basque regional Parliament with his wife Begona Gil, on 5 May 2009, where he will be elected as new regional president, in the northern Spanish Basque city of Vitoria.


Together, the PP and the Socialists have a slim majority of 38 seats in the 75-member regional assembly from the regional elections, compared to 30 gained by the PNV.

It was the first time since Spain returned to democracy in 1975 that the region in northeast Spain will be run by non-nationalist parties who have no plans for any change in the status of the Basque country.

7 May 2009
AFP / Expatica

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