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Basque party shuts its doors

The Basque nationalist party Batasuna, outlawed in Spain in 2003, is closing its doors in France. The party said its fight for a free Basque country would continue through other political tools.

The Batasuna party, viewed as the political wing of separatist ETA rebels and outlawed by Spain, is shutting down its offices in France. The party's leaders said they were stepping aside to clear the way for Basque separatists working within the political system in Spain.

"We have to recognize that the political phase during which we created Batasuna has now come to an end. With that political phase now closed, it would appear that Batasuna's time is also over," party member Jean-Claude Aguerre told reporters.

Waning influence

Batasuna was outlawed by Spain in 2003 for its links to ETA rebels. The party was founded 12 years ago by members of another banned separatist party. The activists were seeking independence for seven Basque provinces in northern Spain and southwest France.

ETA began its four-decade long campaign under General Francisco Franco, owing to the suppression of Basque culture and language. Today, the Basques in Spain enjoy a higher degree of economic and political autonomy.

Basque supporters can now vote for the pro-independence party Bildu, which enjoyed success in October's regional election. The vote resulted in Bildu winning 21 out of 75 seats in the Basque parliament.

Bildu was subject to the same sort of scrutiny as previous Basque parties, but Spain's top court ultimately ruled that the party was not a repackaged successor to Batasuna.

As a result of these developments and others, ETA announced at the end of 2011 an end to their violent campaign for independence, which has left more than 800 people dead. As separatists have gained more legitimacy within the political system, Batasuna's influence has waned. The party operated for a period out of France while Basques had no official representation in Spain.

tm/msh (AP, Reuters)