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Spanish prime minister urges Basque separatists to go further

The Spanish prime minister has said the Basque separatist group Batasuna must distance itself more from the militant group ETA to be taken seriously. The organization wants to be able to field candidates in elections.

A sign saying Eta, no

Zapatero wants a true split between Batasuna and ETA

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has demanded "additional steps" from Basque separatists to distance themselves from the armed movement ETA, if they are to play a role in the democratic process.

"They have advanced, but they must take additional steps, more decisive and firm, to reject, forget and make a definitive break with violence," Zapatero said at a rally of his socialist PSOE party on Sunday in the Basque town of Durango.

"Democracy opens its doors to those who distance themselves definitively from violence," he said.

The separatist group Batasuna - long considered to be the political wing of ETA - in January founded a political party which explicitly rejects violence, with the intention that it should enter municipal elections in May.

Although Spain's top court last month rejected an application by Batasuna to field candidates, the group still aims to play a role in the elections through links with two legal parties.

Direct address to militants

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Zapatero was addressing a rally of his Socialist party

Zapatero also addressed ETA directly, demanding "only one step, a step backwards, the definitive renunciation of violence, with no conditions."

He also vowed that, despite the declaration of a ceasefire by ETA, the Spanish state would maintain pressure on the group following a series of successful operations against it. "We will not let them breathe," he said.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a campaign of bombings and shootings that had lasted four decades. The Spanish government has demanded that the organization disband entirely.

Leaders of the group announced a permanent ceasefire in March 2006, but killed two people nine months later when it set off a bomb at Madrid's Barajas Airport. It announced the latest "permanent, verifiable" ceasefire on January 10.

On Saturday, ETA released a statement reaffirming that it had a "clear willingness to overcome a historical cycle that has been characterized by armed confrontation." However, it denied that the ceasefire was a sign of weakness.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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