Spanish PM asked to do a Tony Blair and bring ETA in from the cold

Criminalising the political wing of ETA certainly doesn’t seem to have put the stoppers on moves by the region to distance itself from Spain with the result that Batasuna are now being called in from the cold.

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, speaking in San Sebastian Saturday, has indicated that he is willing to open talks with Batasuna, the political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA as moves to create a Basque Free State gain momentum.

In a comment that will be familiar to the people of this island, Zapatero said there was one essential requirement if talks are to go ahead: “The noise of bombs and guns must be silenced once and for all”.

Zapatero’s remarks follow a call by Batasuna to the Spanish government that it should open talks to help end the “armed conflict”.

Batasuna say they aren’t looking for immediate independence for the Basque country but rather a process of “demilitarisation” and some form of agreement between nationalist and non-nationalist Basques.

Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of Batasuna (Unity), which was made permanently illegal in 2003, said the Spanish government should look to Northern Ireland and that Zapatero could go down in history as the “Spanish Tony Blair” who ended the “armed conflict”.

He also demanded the release of the around 500 ETA “political prisoners” currently in jail.

Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy have joined forces to rein in the head of the Basque regional government Juan José Ibarretxe, who is trying to move the region towards greater autonomy.

The ruling Socialists (PSOE) and the Conservatives (PP) have to work together for the unity of Spain to combat this challenge was the message after a meeting of both men.

Both parties are expected to vote against the regional autonomy plans but Ibarretxe plans to put it to Basques in a regional referendum in April anyway even though Spain’s constitution bans regional referendums – unlike Northern Ireland where there is a mechanism in place for implementing constitutional change by means of a regional referendum.

Rajoy says any meeting between Zapateros and Otegi would be a serious mistake. Is this all just part of Batasuna’s plan to have its political ban lifted in time to participate in regional elections in May?

The “Ibarretxe Plan” envisages the creation of a Basque Free State which would only have loose connections with Spain.

  • Keith M

    Just before being banned Batasuna had

    The Spanish government should learn a lesson from Northern Ireland not even consider lagalising them until the threat of terrorism is gone.

    As for “unlike Northern Ireland where there is a mechanism in place for implementing constitutional change by means of a regional referendum.” This applies to all the regions of the U.K.

  • Keith M

    Just before being banned Batasuna had less than 1% of the popular vote in Spain and even in their heartland, were only getting 8%-18% of the vote. They do not enjoy the support of the vast majority of the support of most Basque people, who actually despise them.

    The Spanish government should learn a lesson from Northern Ireland not even consider lagalising them until the threat of terrorism is gone.

    As for “unlike Northern Ireland where there is a mechanism in place for implementing constitutional change by means of a regional referendum.” This applies to all the regions of the U.K.

  • peteb

    Since Zapatero was actually, as you point out George, responding to “a call from Batasuna.. to open talks”, surely it would be more accurate to say that Batasuna are seeking to be let in from ‘the cold’?

  • George

    Keithm,
    do the Scottish and Welsh parliaments have the authority to ask for regional referendums on their constitutional position within the UK?

  • George

    Peteb,
    I agree you could look at it that way but I used bring in as it could also be argued that the recent moves towards autonomy by the Basque regional parliament and the looming constitutional crisis that a regional referendum would bring are the reasons why Zapatero has decided to move now.

  • peteb

    It’s perfectly possible to argue that line, George, but there is a huge difference between those two interpretations. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

  • Davros

    It will be interesting to see if Sinn Féin comment upon developements such as Basques put forward plan to break away from Madrid and the Colombia-Venezuela row, Batasuna/ETA and FARC, or if they will keep their heads down.

  • John S

    Its quite sickening. All these talks show is that terrorism works.

  • Keith M

    George “do the Scottish and Welsh parliaments have the authority to ask for regional referendums on their constitutional position within the UK?”. That question is irrelevant. Any decisions on a referendum on the status of N.I., Scotland and Wales rest with H.M.G.

    Let’s not forget that just a couple of years ago the UUP, the DUP and SF/IRA were all calling for a referendum and Reid decided to ignore them.

  • George

    A carefully timed sequence of events perhaps?

    The Basque terrorist group ETA has said it is
    ready for talks with the Madrid government on the conflict in the Basque region, according to a statement from the group published in
    Basque media on Sunday.

    While the ETA statement supports proposals put forward two months ago by its political wing Batsuna (Unity), including political
    dialogue with Madrid and a referendum in the Basque country to decide on whether it remains part of Spain, it makes no mention of a
    ceasefire.

    The Spanish government has said however it will not embark on a political process with ETA until the group disarms, citing its 1998
    ceasefire and attempt at peace talks which stalled after 14 months.

    “You cannot talk to someone with a gun in their hand,” Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono said Sunday responding to ETA’s statement.

    Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said he supported the talks in principal, but they could only happen if ETA ended its
    campaign of terror and violence.

    It is relevant Keithm,
    There is a mechanism in place to hold a regional referendum in Northern Ireland.
    Reid ignored them because his remit was to call a referendum if it appeared clear there was a majority for change. There wasn’t so no referendum.
    There is no mechanism in place in Scotland or Wales.