Thousands condemn ETA at Madrid rally

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Thousands of people took to the streets of Madrid on Saturday to voice their opposition to any negotiations with the armed Basque separatist group ETA, which declared a "permanent" ceasefire last month.

Counter demonstrations also took place in several towns in Spain's northern Basque Country and neighbouring Navarra region in support of a new party to be unveiled on Monday by former members of ETA's banned political wing, Batasuna.

The new party will reject the use of violence in the hope of standing in municipal elections in May.

With placards declaring "No more lies" and "No more fake ceasefires", the Madrid demonstrators marched through centre of the Spanish capital in a protest organised by the group Voices Against Terrorism.

ETA on January 10 declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" to be verified by the international community.

It was the first unilateral declaration of a permanent ceasefire in ETA's campaign of bombings and shootings for a homeland independent of Spain, which has claimed the lives of 829 people.

But Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the declaration, saying he wants nothing less than ETA's dissolution.

Among those taking part in Saturday's march in Madrid were members of Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party, including the president of Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre.

Aguirre called on the government "not to fall into the temptation" of allowing Batasuna or its allies to run in the May elections.

ETA had announced a ceasefire in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the car park of Madrid's airport, killing two men.

Spanish authorities believe their campaign against ETA in recent years, with dozens of arrests made in cooperation with forces in other countries, particularly France, has seriously weakened ETA's operational capacity.

The group has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

© 2011 AFP

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