Political deal in Basque Country to oust nationalists

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The Popular Party and the Socialists strikes a deal at regional level where the PP will back Basque Socialist leader as head of new government.

MADRID – The conservative party in Spain's Basque Country announced Monday a deal with the Socialists to end their nationalist rivals' 30-year grip on power in the region.

After lengthy negotiations following inconclusive 1 March regional elections, the Popular Party has agreed to back Basque Socialist leader Patxi Lopez as the head of a new government, said the secretary general of the PP in region, Inaki Oyarzabal.

The deal between the Popular Party and the Socialists, their traditional rivals at the national level, is expected to be signed on Wednesday and Lopez sworn in by late April, he told reporters in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

"A new step has opened in the Basque Country," he said.

"It is a great opportunity to defend the freedom of all, to defeat ETA," he said, referring to the armed separatist group blamed for 825 deaths in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland.

The PP and the Socialists together have a slim majority of 38 seats in the 75-member regional assembly from the regional elections, compared to 30 gained by the incumbent Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).

It was the first time since Spain returned to democracy in 1975 that non-nationalist parties had obtained a majority in the wealthy region bordering France.

Lopez had said on the night of the elections that he hoped to be appointed as the new head of government with the support of the conservatives.

The Socialist Party holds power in the central government in Madrid, while the PP is the main opposition party.

But both opposed plans presented by PNV leader and outgoing head of the regional government Juan Jose Ibarretxe for referendums on self-determination. However, the moderate nationalist PNV rejects ETA's violent separatist campaign.

Analysts had attributed the rise in support for the Basque Socialists in part on tentative peace negotiations with ETA launched by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2006.

The talks collapsed when the group killed two people in a bomb attack at Madrid airport in December 2006. ETA formally called off a ceasefire six months later, and since then the government has taken a tough line against the group and its outlawed political wing Batasuna.

Spain's Supreme Court last month banned two pro-independence parties from participating in the regional election due to their links to ETA and Batasuna.

But the political deal in the Basque Country could complicate life for Zapatero in the national parliament, where the PNV has withdrawn the support of its six deputies for the prime minister's minority government.

Under the deal announced Monday, called "Bases for democratic change in the service of Basque society," the PP agrees to support Lopez as head of government and ensure the "stability" of the new administration while the PP would hold the post of parliament speaker.

AFP / Expatica

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