Basque protesters defy ban to march for ETA prisoners | News | DW | 12.01.2014
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Basque protesters defy ban to march for ETA prisoners

Protesters in the basque region of Spain have rallied to protest about the treatment of imprisoned members of the separatist group ETA. The demonstration was held after an earlier ban imposed by a Madrid court.

Tens of thousands marched through the streets of Bilbao on Saturday to demand that ETA prisoners be allowed to serve their jail sentences closer to home.

Police put the number of participants - who were defying a court decision that banned the march - at some 110,000.

A court in Madrid on Friday had issued a ruling that banned the demonstration, saying that it had been organized by ETA, which is a banned group.

A judge on Saturday ruled that the new gathering, organized by mainstream parties, was not illegal.

Two of the region's main political parties - the pro-independence Bildu and the more moderate nationalist Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) - joined forces to restage the rally in a rare moment of unity.

Although the rally was supposed to be staged in silence, according to the wishes of the organizers, some members of the crowd repeatedly called out "amnesty for all" and "freedom, freedom."

Regional government spokesman Josu Erkoreka had earlier said the ban on the original demo was "incomprehensible to the Basque people."

ETA - or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which means Basque Homeland and Freedom - is accused of killing more than 800 people in a campaign of violence over more than four decades.

Having been branded a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the US, the group called a ceasefire in 2011. The transfer of ETA prisoners to jails in the Basque region remain a major sticking points in disarmament negotiations with the Madrid government.

rc/mr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)