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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 05:24 GMT

World: Europe

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.

Daniel Schweimler reports on the vote
The governing Basque Nationalist Party won the most seats in the regional parliamentary elections, but failed to gain an absolute majority; it is expected to form a coalition.

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

Daniel Schweimler in Madrid: "The political landscape is no clearer"
The Spanish Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, said he never expected a result which would be so positive for peace.

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.

[ image: Elections display in support of Herri Batasuna]
Elections display in support of Herri Batasuna
The Spanish Government and main opposition parties all said that the regional elections would have to pass off peacefully, and the results respected, before they were convinced that ETA was committed to peace.

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.

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