Irish Republican News · October 10, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Peace hopes fade in the Basque Country

A top member of banned Basque political party Batasuna has said the arrest and detention of most of the party’s leadership is a declaration of war by the Madrid government.

Thousands of people took to the streets in Basque cities at the weekend to protest the government’s action in raiding a meeting of Batasuna and arresting 23 people, including 19 members of the party’s leadership and four other activists, also seeking independence for the Basque Country.

Pernando Barrena, the most senior official of Batasuna still at liberty, said the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wanted to “slam the door” on the Basque independence movement.

“The repression will not make us back down”, he said.

Across the Basque Country late Saturday, several thousand protestors demonstrated against the arrests. Marches in Bilbao and San Sebastian -- which drew the largest crowds -- and in Vitoria, all passed off peacefully.

The banner leading off the march at Bilbao declared, “Open the doors to independence and long live the free Basque Country.” Other banners held at the demonstrations denounced the Madrid government as terrorists and warned of a response. A demonstration in the city of Pamplona in the neighbouring region of Navarre, was broken up by police.

Batasuna has been banned as a party since 2003 for refusing to condemn violence and cut its links to the armed group, ETA.

Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun visited Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi in Martutene Prison in San Sebastian on Friday.

Sinn Fein is keen to express our solidarity with Mr Otegi, who has been a key player in promoting the peace process and a negotiated settlement in the Basque Country,” said a Sinn Fein spokesperson.

“He should be released immediately.

Commenting on the arrest of the National Executive of Batasuna by Spanish police in Segura last night, the spokesperson added:

“We have argued for some time that the banning of Batasuna and jailing of its political representatives is not conducive to the successful advancement of a peace process in the region. All legal restrictions against Batasuna should be lifted.”

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© 2007 Irish Republican News