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 in an open letter 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.