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Basque separatists launch new party, saying it renounces violence

Basque separatist leaders have announced a new political party, hoping that the authorities will not outlaw it. The party is said to reject violence, especially the actions of the armed Basque group, ETA.

Rufino Etxberria walks across the stage at the launch of the party

The new party will have to prove it's not in league with ETA

Basque separatists unveiled Spain’s newest political party in Bilbao on Monday, trying to circumvent the legal ban on political groups tied to the armed wing of the Basque movement, ETA.

The new party, whose name was set to be announced on Tuesday, is said to reject violence and intends to contest Spanish local elections in May. Under Spanish law all political groups must reject violence.

The group will replace the Batasuna party, which has been outlawed since 2003 because of its alleged links to ETA, whose battle for an independent Basque homeland has been blamed for over 800 deaths over almost half a century.

A former leader of the Batasuna group, Rufi Etxeberria said at the launch that the party "rejects and opposes" the use of violence… including that of ETA.

"It is therefore an explicit rejection of violence," Etxeberria said in his televised address. "This is a direct consequence of our commitment to exclusively political and democratic routes. These new statutes are in order to reclaim our legal status. There is no going back."

Batasuna party supporters are evicted from party offices in Pamplona, northern Spain Monday Aug. 26 2002

The group is effectively a successor to the outlawed Batasuna party

The Basque leaders plan to present these new statutes to the Spanish Interior Ministry, which must decide whether the new party can be authorized, on Wednesday.

Government skeptical of turnaround

The rejection of violence may not satisfy Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government.

Spanish leaders have countered that a new Basque party should explicitly condemn past attacks by ETA and either convince the group to disarm permanently or break with it completely.

If the Interior Ministry were to deem the new party illegal, a very real possibility, then it could become a matter for the Spanish legal system.

ETA declared a ceasefire in September 2010, and then reiterated that pledge in January, calling the truce "permanent, general and verifiable." There have been no attacks attributed to the group on Spanish soil since August 2009.

ETA has also been weakened considerably by a string of successful raids in Spain, France and across Europe, where security forces captured several leading figures within the separatist group.

Author: Mark Hallam (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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