Basque ETA rebels say region on brink of change: report

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The armed Basque separatist group ETA has said the troubled Spanish region is on the brink of "a period of change" in a statement read at an event in France, a Basque newspaper reported Sunday.

The statement was read out before a crowd of thousands by three masked people who said they represented ETA at a tribute on Saturday for a deceased member of the group in the French town of Ciboure near the Spanish border, the pro-independence Basque daily Gara reported.

"Euskal Herria is on the doorstep of living a period of change, to be able to recover its own voice. Today it is an option that feels close and that is possible to achieve," the statement said.

Euskal Herria is the Basque name for the region ETA is fighting to be made independent from Spain. It spans the Pyrenees mountains, including Spain's Basque Country and parts of Navarra as well as parts of southern France.

The ETA statement also called on Madrid and Paris to "abandon the threat of weapons against the (Basque) people amd listen and respect what they say."

ETA, which is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, has been held responsible for the deaths of 829 people in its over 40-year-old campaign of gun and bomb attacks on mainly Spanish targets.

The group has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009 and its latest statement comes amid speculation in Spain that the group may be on the verge of announcing another unilateral ceasefire as it did in 2006.

ETA has seen dozens of its members arrested in both Spain and France, including several of its senior military leaders, since the group formally called off its ceasefire in June 2007, citing a lack of progress in tentative peace talks with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In an interview published in the newspaper El Pais on Sunday, Zapatero defended the failed peace process, saying he was "convinced that it sowed the seeds to a definitive solution" to the Basque conflict.

ETA was founded more than half a century ago during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who banned the use of the Basque language.

© 2010 AFP

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