Blair applauds ETA ceasfire

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Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Thursday hailed as a "very big moment" Basque separatist group ETA's calling of a ceasefire after bringing to bear his experience of the Irish peace process on negotiations.

The former premier, who backed a declaration launched at a conference earlier this week calling for peace, warned there were "lots of issues to be resolved" but that "taking violence out of the equation" was the most important step, during a BBC interview.

"This is obviously a very big moment," he said. "The Spanish government and the ETA leadership could see that this was a moment of opportunity to cease (violence).

"It is great news that people can put this conflict behind them and get on with trying to build a fairer, just society in peace and harmony," he added.

Thursday's announcement by ETA, blamed for 829 killings since its founding in 1959, promised an end to Western Europe's last major armed separatist campaign.

Three ETA militants dressed in black shirts with white hoods over their faces and black berets made the dramatic declaration terminating the deadly campaign for a Basque homeland, in a video posted online.

Blair said he had offered advice throughout negotiations, but that "in the end that decision is theirs".

The former leader was helped by Irish nationalist Gerry Adams, president of the Sinn Fein party, who along with Blair played a key role in negotiating the end of decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

© 2011 AFP

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