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8 June 2006 Edition

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Basque visit: Sinn Féin President meets range of political leaders

Adams calls for All-Party Talks in Basque Country

Gerry Adams is on a three day visit to the Basque country and Spain. RICHARD McAULEY, who is acopanying the Sinn Féin President, sent this report from Bilbao.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams arrived on Tuesday afternoon in the Basque country at the beginning of a three day trip to Bilbao, Madrid and Barcalona. He is accompanied by Eoin O Broin, the party's Director of European Affairs. The focus of the intense three-day trip is to meet Basque, Spanish and Catalan political leaders and to discuss the developing peace process in the Basque Country and explore ways in which Sinn Féin's experience of conflict resolution in Ireland can assist this situation.

Immediately on his arrival the Sinn Féin leader held a two-hour meeting with the leadership of Batasuna, and then, along with Batasuna leader Arneldo Otegi, made presentations to the National Executive of that party at an open, media attended event.

The scale of the interest in the visit could be measured by the packed media attendance. Over 12 camera crews, a score or more of photographers and journalists crowded into the conference room in the Abando Hotel.

Later the Sinn Féin delegation met with Jon Josu Imaz, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party. And on Wednesday morning Gerry Adams met for the first time representatives of the Spanish Socialist Party in the Basque country. Their delegation was led by Patxi Lopez, leader of the Spanish Socialist party in the Basque country and Jesus Eguiguren, the party's deputy leader there.

Progress welcomed

Speaking to the media afterward Adams welcomed the progress that has been made in the two months since ETA announced its permanent ceasefire. He said:

"The ETA cessation creates an unprecedented opportunity for a lasting and democratic resolution to a conflict that has affected the region for decades.

For this opportunity to be realised, all sides must take risks, and all sides must engage positively and constructively. Crucially the period ahead is one in which all of those concerned with the future must co-operate to make politics work.

Inevitably there will be difficulties. It is the nature of this type of process.

However, in my view none of the difficulties are insurmountable. Consequently, there should be no delay in the commencement of all party talks in the Basque Country. The fundamental causes of the conflict must be addressed by all parties in an open and inclusive manner.

In Sinn Fein's experience if progress is to be achieved political rights must be protected and upheld. Discussions between the participants, as well as all-party talks requires the lifting of the ban on Batasuna. This would be a common sense step as would the ending of legal proceedings against left nationalist political activists.

Clearly there is an obligation on all sides to the conflict to state clearly that they will respect the outcome of all party talks. This means the Basques must have the right to decide their own future, peacefully, democratically and free from outside interference.

The coming weeks will indicate whether all sides to the conflict are willing to take the risks that are required. I am confident that with political will the people of the Basque country and the Spanish state will find a way to resolve all these issues."

On Wednesday afternoon the Sinn Féin delegation flew to Madrid where the Sinn Fein leader is addressing the presigious New Economic Forum and on Thursday he will be in Barcelona where he will meet with the Left Republicans of Catalonia (ERC) and receive the International Person of the Year award from CIEMEN, a cultural NGO.

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