8 January 2004 Edition

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Basque left produces new plan for progress

The Basque pro-independence movement starts the year with new hope for a negotiated solution to the conflict in the Basque Country. It has presented a new peace proposal, the Bergara Agreement, as the basis for a common strategy for all those Basques who want to see the right to self-determination for the Basque Country. The proposal was supported by the Basque armed group ETA, which said in a statement published on 29 December that it is ready "to do whatever is necessary so this initiative reach its final objective".

On 16 December, the Basque pro-independence left publicised a new proposal —which includes the participation of all pro-independence candidates under the same banner for the Spanish general elections to take place next March. The spokesperson for the Basque nationalist-left, Arnaldo Otegi, highlighted that this was a historical occasion as this was "an opportunity to change the political scene". The proposal was presented outside the house of one of the historical figures of the Basque pro-independence movement, Telesforo Monzón, in the town of Bergara.

"We believe that the state of affairs is such that is possible to create, among all those forces that support the right to self-determination, a common political proposal to present at this year's Spanish general election," said Otegi.

This is a call to political parties, but also to trade unions, the community sector and other social and cultural groups with an interest in Basque self-determination. The aim of this proposal is that all those elected under the banner of self-determination could act as "national interlocutors", representing the Basque Country in their dealings with the Spanish establishment, to try to open a negotiation process.

Otegi asked the representatives of the different parties in the Basque Country to consider the offer with responsibility and wisdom. He added that this was not a proposal to be debated in the media because "this is a good opportunity to change the political scene.

"In the history of this country, there have been few days when we could present hope and historical opportunities", explained the Basque politician, asking politicians and the media "to behave properly and not to sabotage or play frivolously with the proposal. "This is the future of our people," he said.

Otegi said that this is a time to stop highlighting the political divergence among the different Basque nationalist organisations and "to unite forces and face into a process that can secure a lasting and unwavering peace, based on our right to democratically and freely decide our future.

"This is the time to emphatically and loudly say that the Basques are not part of the Spanish domain," he said.

On Monday 29 December, the Basque pro-independence armed group ETA released a brief statement expressing support for the proposal. The statement said:

"At a crucial time for our people, ETA wants to express the following:

"We support the proposal presented on 16 December 2003 in Bergara that aims to unify all the forces that back the right to self-determination under a same political banner for the Spanish elections.

"We are ready to do whatever is necessary so this initiative reaches its final objective."

Not surprisingly, given its repressive policies to date — which include the banning of a Basque political party and dozens of Basque social and cultural organisations (two newspapers and a radio station among them) — the governing party in Spain, the right-wing Popular Party, has rejected the proposal. It instead asserted that ETA's statement demonstrates that ETA and Batasuna — the Basque left-wing political party banned by the Spanish State — are the same. Leopoldo Barreda, spokesperson for the Popular Party in Gasteiz, the seat of the Basque Parliament, claimed that "the reasoning behind (ETA's) statement is exclusively political", and on the other hand pointed out that there was no clear reference to a cease-fire "or anything similar".

The Spanish parliament's main opposition, the Socialist Party, also rejected the proposal. Its chairperson in the Basque Country, Rodolfo Ares, said his party hoped that the Basque conservative nationalist parties, PNV and EA, would decline the invitation to present a united position with other Basque forces for the Spanish elections.

• Two hundred relatives of Basque political prisoners have started a five-day fast in seven European cities to raise awareness about the situation of their relatives in prison and to establish contacts with human rights organisations, trade unions and political parties. The protest is taking place in Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, Berlin, Geneva, Copenhagen and Milan.

There are nearly 700 Basque political prisoners in 47 Spanish prisons and 26 French jails, and some others are awaiting extradition in Argentina, Mexico and the Netherlands.

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