Zapatero announces peace talks with Basque separatists, ETA

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Location of Basque Country, an autonomous community in the country of Spain

“The Government is going to initiate talks with ETA" said Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in a televised speech to Parliament, Thursday.

The historic announcement meant Mr Zapatero's Socialist-led government were set to begin peace talks with the Basque separatist group ETA for the first time in Spain's history.

"The process is going to be long, tough and difficult. We’ll handle it with determination and prudence, with unity and loyalty and always with respect to the memory of the victims,” said Mr Zapatero.

At a news conference Mr Zapatero said the proposed talks would discuss the dismantling of ETA's organisation and the 500 ETA prisoners in Spanish jails but not Basque independence. "Democracy will not pay any political price to achieve peace," Mr Zapatero said.

The Spanish opposition Popular Party did not give their full support for Mr Zapatero's peace bid. They particularly objected to talks with Batasuna, the political front of ETA. "Any normal person understands you can't negotiate with someone whose negotiating weapon is as powerful and hard to argue with as a pistol," said Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy.

ETA had been fighting a terrorist war since Franco's era until it announced a permanent ceasefire March 22, 2006. The group was responsible for 817 deaths over its 38-year campaign while staking its claim for territory in northern Spain and south-western France.

ETA says the motivation for talks is so the Basque people get to decide their own future.

Their request last week came after three months of ceasefire. Though ETA had not killed since 2003 it had continued to explode bombs and extort money from businesses.

It is thought a six-year police crackdown on militants and opinion polls that suggested not all Basques wanted independence made violence a counter-productive strategy for ETA. Violence also had become associated with September 11, 2001 and the 2004 Madrid bombings.

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