Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 05:24 GMT
Basque elections 'victory for democracy'
Turn-out was high at the first Basque elections since ETA ceasefire
Politicians in Spain have hailed Sunday's election in the Basque region as a victory for democracy. The poll was the first since the Basque separatist group ETA declared a ceasefire last month. Turnout, at 73%, was the highest in the region's history.
The poll proved inconclusive as a guide to the crucial question of separate Basque homeland. Support grew both for opponents of independence and for ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna.
Observers say the increased vote for Herri Batasuna should strengthen the case for a continued ceasefire and give the party a greater say in the peace process, without ETA having to resort to further violence.
Official results show the party that has governed the region for 18 years had taken 21 of the 75 seats in the regional parliament, two fewer than before.
Spain's governing Popular Party took second place ahead of a pro-ETA coalition, which tied with the Socialists in third place.
Peace hopes strengthened
The conservative newspaper, El Mundo, said democracy was the great victor and all the main party leaders standing in the elections praised the voters for turning out in such large numbers, despite the heavy rain.
These were the sixth such elections since Spain granted the Basque country a broad degree of autonomy in 1959.
In a taped message broadcast on Saturday by the BBC, a hooded ETA leader insisted that the truce offer "was solid and serious" but added the group had no regrets for any of its actions.
ETA, whose name is a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, has killed nearly 800 people since 1968.