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29 August 2002 Edition

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Batasuna banned: 'Democracy', Spanish style

In a move echoing Franco's dictatorship, Spain's right-wing ruling Popular Party has finally achieved its objective of banning pro-independence left-wing nationalist party Batasuna.

Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar called a special session of the Spanish parliament to seek an indefinite ban on the party, under a law passed two months ago allowing parliament to ask the Supreme Court to ban parties that support terrorism. On Monday, 26 August, the Spanish parliament voted by 295 votes to 10 to ask the Supreme Court to outlaw Batasuna altogether.

In a separate but linked development, also on Monday 26 August, Judge Baltasar Garzón banned Batasuna from political activity for three years on the grounds that it is linked to the armed separatist group, ETA, though he has produced no evidence of such involvement. Garzón - internationally prominent for the international arrest order against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet - is better known to Basque activists for his personal crusade against the pro-independence movement and his double standards when it comes to Basques being tortured by the police. Although during his many years as a judge of the Spanish Special Criminal Court, the Audiencia Nacional, he has witnessed the evidence of torture in the physical condition of Basque prisoners, he has never acted against the police who tortured them.

Garzon's decision leaves around 250,000 people without political representation in Basque autonomous and local institutions.

Batasuna spokesman Arnaldo Otegi has announced the party's intention of exhausting all judicial avenues in Spain and then to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

The banning of Batasuna means the closure of the party offices, with water, electricity and telephones cut off; the banning of public rallies and demonstrations called in support of or by Batasuna; party representatives barred from next year's local elections; and all assets seized and bank accounts frozen.

Pernando Barrena, the spokesman for the Batasuna party in the Navarre province, who has attended various Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna, was one of those evicted. "This is what they mean in Madrid when they talk about democracy and peace," he said.

Since the Popular Party made it to power in 1996, the Spanish government has opted for a policy of repression to suppress Basque nationalism. In 1998, Basque nationalist and left wing groups and parties signed the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement, setting the basis for a political solution to the Basque question, and ETA called a ceasefire. Instead of building on this initiative, however, the Spanish government sought to diminish it, avoiding any meaningful dialogue.

Since them, the Aznar administration has targeted not only political activists but also members and leaders of social and cultural groups and, with the help of Garzón, has banned many social and youth organisations.

With this latest move, Aznar and Garzón have closed the political door to those Basques who favour self-determination.



Ó Snodaigh hits out at suspension




Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, hit out on Tuesday at the suspension of Batasuna, describing it as anti-democratic and entirely counter-productive.

The closing down of Batasuna's offices, banning of its public rallies and preventing the party from standing in next years local elections will make the task of building peace all the more difficult, he said.

"There is no one blueprint for conflict resolution," said Ó Snodaigh, "but international experience has shown that the only way that progress will occur is through inclusive dialogue based on equality and respect. It is crucial that channels of communication are kept open, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

"The international community has a important role to play in this regard by exercising goodwill and influence and by actively seeking and encouraging dialogue and agreement."
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