Basque separatist group says it will not back down

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On its 50th anniversary, ETA claims it will continue to fight “with all our strength” for an independent state.

Madrid -- The armed Basque separatist group ETA vowed Friday to keep fighting as it marked the 50th anniversary of its struggle to carve out an independent state.

In a statement sent to the pro-independence newspaper Gara, just one month ahead of Basque regional elections on March 1, the group urged Basques to "join forces" to "take the road to independence by peaceful and democratic means."

However, the ETA also indicated that it would use other methods to help found a Basque state. "In the meantime, we must continue to fight with all our strength and through all means because the enemy states (Spain and France) do not give the smallest sign that they have the desire to respect the word of Euskal Herria," the statement said.

Euskal Herria is the Basque language name for the "larger" Basque Country, which straddles the area of northern Spain and southwestern France.

In September, Spain's Constitutional Court, the country's highest tribunal, ruled that a referendum on the Basque region that was seen as a step towards self-determination could not go ahead as planned by the president of the regional Basque government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe.

Ibarretxe's failure to secure the referendum has hurt support for his moderately nationalist Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which polls show is at risk of losing power to the Socialists in the upcoming polls.

The PNV has ruled the Basque region since 1980, largely in coalition with other parties.

ETA was formed in July 1959 by a group of left-wing nationalist students who accused the PNV of failing to resist the rule of General Francisco Franco's right-wing dictatorship, which suppressed the Basque language.

It initially sought its goals through political means, but within a decade it resorted to violence, mostly shootings and bombings.

The group's first killing took place in August 1968, when members of the group shot and killed a police officer. More than 90 percent of its victims have been killed since Franco died in 1975 and Spain returned to Europe's democratic fold after four decades of isolation.

One of its mostly deadly attacks took place in 1987 when it bombed a Barcelona supermarket, killing over 20 people. It has also attempted to kill King Juan Carlos and former conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

"While it was born under Francoism, the goal of ETA was not to defeat Francoism but to gain the freedom of the Basque Country," ETA said in its statement.

Last year, police arrested several of its most senior leaders in Spain and in France, which is used as a rear base by the group to launch attacks on Spanish soil. However, ETA boasted in its statement that it was "invincible."

The statement also said that ETA "is an organization which comes from the people and which regenerates itself in the midst of the people without stop, decade after decade. Thus its invincibility. Today, as over the past 50 years, Spanish governments say ETA is on the brink of losing. Certain things change little in 50 years."

ETA, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, finances itself by extorting cash from businesses in the industrialized Basque region.

The group officially called off a 15-month ceasefire in June 2007, saying it had grown frustrated with the lack of progress in its tentative peace talks with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero has since repeatedly ruled out any further talks with the group, whose name is a Basque-language acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom.

Daniel Silva/AFP/Expatica

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