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Basque hunger strike spreads to French prisons

Inmates at a number of French prisons have joined a mass hunger strike that began in northern Spain, French authorities said Tuesday. The Basque prisoners are calling for the release of an ETA inmate.

A mass hunger strike that began last week in Spanish prisons has trickled into France, according to the French penal administration on Tuesday. Inmates at 15 prisons have joined the protest, calling for the release of an ETA inmate who has cancer.

The prisoner, Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga, was convicted in 1998 for kidnappings. He carried out the kidnappings for the Basque-separatist organization known as ETA.

Over 100 Basque prisoners in Spain began their indefinite hunger strikes "in solidarity with Iosu" last week, as one Twitter message from prominent Basque leader, Arnaldo Otegi, read. Spanish newspaper El Pais said on its English-language on Monday that 150 ETA prisoners had started refusing food.

Four ETA convicts sitting behind a glass divider at the National Audience Court in Madrid

ETA convict Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga, second from the right, at the National Audience Court in Madrid

The French administration's announcement reflected numbers it had collected on Monday, but did not indicate the number of individual inmates on hunger strike in France.

The ETA prisoners' association, Herrira, claimed that in France nearly 100 Basque prisoners across 23 prisons were participating in the movement. Herrira also claimed that what began as support of Bolinaga had become a larger movement in France to demand parole for more than 10 other inmates in Spain with terminal illnesses.

The Basque-separatist organization, known as ETA, has been blamed for over 800 killings in recent decades. ETA stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or “Basque Homeland and Freedom”. The group declared a cease-fire last October.

The Basque region spans northern Spain and parts of southern France.

kms / msh (AFP, dpa)