Zapatero and Rajoy strike ETA unity deal

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Former bitter enemies rebuild political unity against the Basque terrorist group and also agree on reforms to judiciary on Wednesday.

24 July 2008

MADRID - Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and opposition Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy set aside years of bitter acrimony Wednesday in order to rebuild political unity against Basque terrorist group ETA and reach agreement on reforms to the justice system.

Their meeting at Madrid's Moncloa prime ministerial palace took place in a new climate of understanding between Spain's two main parties after Zapatero's Socialists won re-election in March, leading Rajoy to adopt a softer approach and end the PP's unbending opposition to virtually all government policies.

Crucially, Wednesday's meeting has allowed the Socialists and the conservative opposition to re-establish the united stance against ETA that fractured when the PP opposed Zapatero's attempts to launch a peace process in the Basque Country during a 2006 ceasefire.

"The meeting was positive; it bore fruits and agreements," the prime minister told reporters in a press conference.

The two politicians also agreed on a series of measures to reform the justice system, including changes to the makeup of the Constitutional Court and the General Council of the Judiciary.

Rajoy highlighted in particular an agreement to toughen sentences against paedophiles and to create a national sex offenders register in the wake of several high profile child sex abuse cases.

The climate of détente was tempered, however, by disagreements over how to prop up Spain's flagging economy. Rajoy called for lower taxes and budget cuts in order to avoid a deficit and stimulate growth, something that was rejected out of hand by Zapatero.

Zapatero said he would not cut spending on social programs. "We need rigor, yes, but also solidarity," he argued.

[El Pais / A. Eatwell / Expatica]

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