7 February 2008 Edition
INTERNATIONAL : Pre-election swoop on Basque leaders
Spanish police arrest Batasuna spokesperson
BY SALLY GALLAGHER
ON the morning of Monday, 4 February, Spanish secret police arrested Batasuna’s spokesperson, Pernando Barrena. His detention, followed by the arrest of his party colleague, Patxi Urrutia, in the Spanish Government campaign to round up all Batasuna leaders ahead of the Spanish general election in early March. The arrest warrant was signed by Judge Baltasar Garzón, who charged them with “membership of a terrorist organisation and the criminal offence of acting in behalf of Batasuna”. Pernando was arrested in his home town and he was taken by the police to witness the police raid of his home that lasted over two hours.
Patxi Urrutia – who was released on bail last October when he was detained during a police operation after a meeting of Batasuna National Executive in Segura and which ended with the imprisonment of over 20 members of the Basque pro-independence party – was arrested in the Old Town of Iruñea. The police are looking for a third person, Unai Fano.
The reason behind the arrest of Barrena and Urrutia, and the warrant against Fano, is a public meeting where they explained to people about what is happening in the peace process negotiations and Batasuna’s strategy for the future.
The new spokespersons for the Basque pro-independence movement, Josetxo Ibazeta and Karmel Aierbe, have said that the arrest of Barrena and Urrutia shows that the Spanish Government does not want the public to know the content of the negotiations and particularly the disagreement around the recognition of the Basque nation and the Basque right to self-determination.
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern at the arrest of Pernando Barrena and ongoing restrictions placed on Basque parties. De Brún was part of a Sinn Féin delegation hosted by Barrena that visited Batasuna’s leader, Arnaldo Otegi, who has been in Martutene Prison since June 2007. She argued that there is a need “to revive the Basque Peace Process”. The Irish MEP said:
“The banning of Batasuna and jailing of political representatives, including democratically-elected representatives, is an impediment to this.”
De Brún pointed out that the possible banning of two other Basque pro-independence parties, EHAK and ANV, who had taken the place of the banned Batasuna in the electoral spectrum, “will further impede any search for progress which requires that every effort be made to improve and encourage dialogue between all of the parties in the Basque Country and the Spanish Government.
“Central to this is the right of voters to have access to parties and political representatives of their choice.”
The Sinn Féin MEP recalled how Pernando Barrena has been a frequent guest to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and a vocal advocate of the need to advance a Basque Peace Process.
“It is clear that political resolution is required. It is clear that the methods used to date will not secure that. A Peace Process is required.”
News in Brief
UN Security Council backs Chad regime
THE UN Security Council has called on countries to support the Chad Government against rebel fighters who have been attacking Ndjamena, the country’s capital.
The non-binding statement came on Monday, 4 February, as rebels renewed their attacks on the city after withdrawing from the capital. The rebels want to topple President Idriss Deby.
Meanwhile, 54 Irish troops on their way to Dublin Airport and bound for Chad did an about-turn when they were ordered back to barracks as news of the renewed assaults in Chad came through.
The troops are from the special forces Army Ranger Wing, an advance party from a 450-strong Irish force as part of an EU Battlegroup (EUfor) scheduled to join eight other Irish military personnel already in Chad.
‘20 Iraqis killed’ in US air raid
THE US military has admitted that it killed nine Iraqi civilians during an operation targeting suspected Al-Qaeda fighters south of Baghdad, the capital.
Witnesses said that 20 people, including 17 members of one family, had been killed in a US air raid.
The incident happened on Saturday, 2 February, near the town of Iskandariya, 50km south of the Iraqi capital.
Three more civilians, including two children, were wounded “as coalition forces pursued Al-Qaeda”, according to a US military spokesperson.
Serbia’s pro-West president re-elected
BORIS TADIC, Serbia’s incumbent president, has narrowly won re-election in a poll seen by many as a referendum on how Serbia should deal with the West after the imminent loss of the breakaway province of Kosovo.
The EU welcomed his win over nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic by 51 per cent to 47 per cent.
Janez Jansa, the president of Slovenia, which currently hold the EU presidency, said the results showed “the wishes and resolve of democratic forces” for Serbia’s push towards EU membership.
‘Tamil bombs’ on Sri Lanka independence day
TWELVE people have been killed and 17 injured by a roadside bomb in Sri Lanka just hours after celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of independence from Britain.
The attack on a bus in the north-eastern district of Polonnaruwa, about 200km from Colombo, was the latest in a series of blasts blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Security was tight for the celebrations on the seafront in Colombo after an explosion at a railway station killed at least 14 people on Sunday, 3 February.