Spain gives bitter greeting to end of ETA bombs

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Spain reacted with relief and bitterness Friday to Basque separatist group ETA's historic declaration of an end to more than 40 years of bombing and shooting.

The dramatic video announcement by three white-hooded ETA militants brought an end to a campaign that claimed 829 lives since its birth in 1959 during General Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

The leader of the Basque regional government, Patxi Lopez, said his bodyguards hugged him when they heard the news.

"We have to discuss how we will open this new period. I plan to speak today with the parties of the Basque Country to start to open this political period," he told Cadena Ser radio.

"We have to be very cautious, 40 years of terrorism cannot be brought to an end in a few urgent hours."

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, widely expected to be elected Spain's new leader in November 20 general elections, both welcomed the declared end of violence.

"Let us savour today the legitimate satisfaction of a victory for democracy, law and reason," Zapatero said immediately after Thursday's declaration, recalling however the pain caused by the violence.

Rajoy said the decision was "good news".

"We consider this an important step, but the peace of mind of Spaniards will only be complete when ETA is irreversibly dissolved and completely disbanded," he added.

Many in Spain, including analysts, much of the press and victims, showed deep distrust and even disgust at ETA's failure to apologise or offer to surrender arms, and its demand for direct talks.

Besides failing to say sorry to those it killed, ETA, classed as a terrorist group by the European Union and United States, bemoaned the loss of its own people.

"This has not been an easy way. The cruelty of the fight has taken away the lives of many comrades. Many others are still suffering in prison and in exile," it said.

The group also made no mention of dissolving, as has been demanded by the government.

It called on the Spanish and French governments to open direct dialogue with the aim of "addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation".

Florencio Dominguez, editor-in-chief of the Bilbao-based news agency Vasco Press and an ETA expert, said one could now assume ETA's violent days were over, but there were still doubts over their demands.

"What are they going to negotiate? Freedom for all their prisoners? That cannot be, they have caused too much pain," Dominguez said.

"The situation is going to be very complicated," he added.

ETA would have trouble with the police if it failed to hand over its arms, Dominguez said.

"We are disappointed because this is not the last step," said Maria del Mar Blanco, a lawmaker with the conservative Popular Party in the Basque regional assembly.

Her brother was killed by the Basque separatist group.

"The terrorist group ETA must still definitively end," Blanco said in an interview with AFP.

Newspapers welcomed the declared end to the armed struggle but also found much to criticise.

"ETA flaunts its killings and summons the government to negotiate," said the front page of the right-of-centre daily El Mundo.

"In the current circumstances, there is no guarantee that we won't move from this 'definitive cessation' to the resumption of attacks if ETA's goals from this negotiation are not satisfied," it said.

The conservative ABC daily agreed ETA had not gone far enough.

"Moving from active terrorism to a threatening guardianship of a terrorist organisation, with its arsenal hidden, is not the peace that Spain deserves," the ABC editorial said.

El Pais greeted the declaration with more optimism.

"Full stop to the nightmare. Democracy ended up triumphing over a band of fanatics who sowed terror," said its editorial.

© 2011 AFP

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