6 November 2003 Edition

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Basques launch broad front initiative

The Basque pro-independence political movement has launched a new initiative aimed at establishing dialogue with trade unions and social and political organisations interested in finding a solution to the Basque political conflict. The spokesperson for the pro-independence Basque left, Arnaldo Otegi, (above) called for those bodies to enter this process that might bring "peace to our people after 200 years of confrontation".

The new initiative, called Anaitasuna's Political Declaration, was unveiled on Sunday 2 November in Iruñea/Pamplona. Proposed points for discussion include the right to self-determination, the inclusion of the seven Basque provinces in the Basque Country, an international convention on civil and political rights and a referendum on the future of the Basque Country in a context free from violence. Otegi pointed out that the challenge is to build this process "through inclusive dialogue without preconditions.

"This is a very serious issue, and that is the reason why we are appealing to the responsibility and calm of Basque political forces," he said.

Otegi reminded all those present at the launch of the repression against Basques carried out by the Spanish and French states.

The Basque leader said discussions will include issues such as sovereignty and the need for a referendum of self-determination in any new political proposals presented by Basque nationalist parties.

Otegi was critical of an earlier document presented by the Basque autonomous Prime Minister Juan José Ibarretxe, the so-called Ibarretxe Plan. "You cannot put together a plan without talking to anyone. You cannot defend inclusive dialogue and then only speak to those who agree with you," said Otegi. "We seriously doubt whether there is a real will to reach agreement to overcome this country's conflict." Ibarretxe's proposals would restrict the outcome of negotiations and proposes to include only three provinces in the officially recognised Basque Country, leaving out the three Basque provinces under French control and Nafarroa under Spanish rule.

On this last omission, Pernando Barrena - well know to republicans as he has attended Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis in many occasions - described Ibarretxe's proposal as an insult to people from Nafarroa. "Mr Ibarretxe, we are as Basque as you are," he said.

The Basque pro-independence movement's proposal comes at a difficult time for this political grouping, after the Spanish right-wing government of Prime Minister José María Aznar managed to secure the approval of new legislation banning the political party Batasuna. This is just part of Aznar's administration's strategy, which has closed two Basque newspapers, a Basque magazine, a Basque radio station, and launched prosecutions against human rights, social, cultural and political Basque organisations, including those working for the rights of political prisoners or in defence of the Basque language.

Aznar's campaign of repression against Basque activists have resulted in a huge increase of the number of Basque political prisoners; there are now 580. But it is not just the Basques who are suffering from the neo-fascist policies of the Spanish Government, as is made clear by a recently released report which puts the figure of prisoners in the Spanish jails at 55,953, the highest number since the end of Franco's regime. Out of more than 55,000, there are about 13,000 prisoners on remand.

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