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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 13:27 UK

Basques back autonomy referendum

Juan Jose Ibarretxe
Mr Ibarretxe says Basques have the right to decide their own future

Members of the Basque regional parliament have approved plans for a referendum on more autonomy from Spain.

They voted narrowly, by 34 votes to 33, to hold a public vote on 25 October.

However, the Spanish government is opposed to the plans and is expected to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, putting the vote on hold.

The Basque regional government is openly considering its relationship with Madrid, and the possible creation of an independent Basque state.

The referendum would ask Basque residents if they would approve of political talks about the region's right to decide its own future.

They would also be questioned on whether they would like a negotiated end to the violence of the militant, separatist group Eta.

Divisive

"I am pleased to present this bill, which responds to the noble aims of achieving peace and a political accord," said the head of the Basque government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, before the vote.

He has said his region has a democratic right to hold a referendum, with surveys suggesting that some 40% of people in the Basque region are in favour of greater autonomy from the rest of Spain.

Mr Ibarretxe also believes an open discussion of Basque self-determination would help solve the problem of Eta violence, which has killed more than 800 people.

However, many Spaniards disagree, and see Mr Ibarretxe's initiative as divisive and illegal, says the BBC's Danny Wood in Madrid.

Four years ago, a similar Basque project was approved by the regional parliament, only to be strongly rejected by Spain's national parliamentarians.

At the time Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero accused Mr Ibarretxe of promoting a nationalist vision of the Basque region that does not exist.

The latest Basque plan is also unlikely to prosper, our correspondent says, with the government likely to launch a constitutional challenge.


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