Basque leader gets 10 years for rebuilding banned party

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A Spanish court sentenced Basque secessionist leader Arnaldo Otegi to 10 years' jail Friday for trying to rebuild ETA's banned political wing Batasuna.

The National Court sentenced the 53-year-old Otegi for "a crime of belonging to a terrorist organization," it said in a statement. Otegi had been in prison since October 2009 awaiting trial and sentencing.

Batasuna was banned in 2003 because of its supposed links with ETA, which is held responsible for 829 deaths in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for independence for the Basque Country of northern Spain and southwestern France.

ETA, weakened after years of arrests of its senior leaders, has not committed an attack on Spanish territory since August 2009.

Otegi was arrested October 13, 2009 for secretly plotting to rebuild Batasuna's leadership.

Among others arrested were the secretary general of pro-Basque independence LAB union Rafael Diez Usabiaga, who was also sentenced to 10 years by the National Court.

The two others arrested that day, Sonia Jacinto and Miren Zabaleta, daughter of Patxi Zabaleta who leads the non-violent pro-independence party Aralar, were sentenced to eight years each.

Otegi was one of the main architects of failed peace negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government from 2006-2007.

He has distanced himself in recent months from the armed struggle without explicitly condemning ETA or breaking with the band.

ETA announced on September 5, 2010 it had decided several months earlier that it would "not carry out armed offensive actions".

Four months later, on January 10 this year, it declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" to be verified by the international community.

The Spanish government demands that ETA disarm and disband itself.

© 2011 AFP

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