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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Basque party ban a step closer
Car bomb in Marbella
ETA has been blamed for several recent car bombings
The upper house of the Spanish parliament has passed a law which clears the way towards banning Batasuna, the political wing of the Basque separatist group, ETA.

The law was passed overwhelmingly, with a 214 to 15 vote.

Besides the Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the opposition Socialist Party backed the bill.

The moderate Basque nationalists who control the Basque regional government voted against it, and many critics in the Basque region warned that the new law could deepen confrontation rather than end it.

Name changes

The bill received overwhelming backing in the lower house of parliament three weeks ago.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
Aznar is taking a hard line with Basque separatists

It will become law once it is published in the official gazette in the next few days, according to Spanish media reports.

The Spanish Government is facing a continued campaign of violence by ETA, which last week targeted the country's lucrative tourist industry, as European Union leaders gathered for the Seville summit.

The government holds Batasuna and other logistical support groups partly responsible for ETA's campaign.

The group has a habit of changing its name.

Formerly Herribatasuna , then Euskal Herritarok, now just Batasuna, in future it says it wants to be known as the Socialist Nationalists.

Confrontation

Now that this law has been passed, any political party which is deemed to promote terrorism, or the creation of a separate state can be made illegal.

Justice Minister Angel Acebes described the bill as "a concrete tool to make illegal and dissolve those parties like Batasuna which belong to terrorist movements.

"We cannot allow a legal political party to use its headquarters as an arms depot or to provide cover for murderers," he said.

But many in the Basque country warned the move will only increase confrontation not finish with ETA.

An earlier attempt in 1997 to crumple Batasuna by locking up its leaders failed.

They were released nearly two years later on a legal technicality.

But our correspondent in Madrid says this new law should prevent any open publicity of ETA at political rallies and make it more difficult for ETA to raise funds via extortion in the Basque country.


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