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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Basque protests as party ban looms
An estimated 5,000 people demonstrated in Bilbao
A ban would close Batasuna's offices and halt rallies
Thousands of supporters of the radical Basque party Batasuna, which faces a ban over its alleged support for the paramilitary group ETA, have demonstrated in the streets of Bilbao in northern Spain.

Crusading judge Baltasar Garzon is intending to shut down Batasuna for five years - a decision expected to be officially announced next week.

If anyone thinks that Garzon, or the Popular Party or the Socialists can finish us off, they are wrong

Batasuna spokesman

The move coincides with an expected vote in the Spanish parliament on Monday to outlaw the party altogether.

Batasuna continues to deny it is linked to ETA and says it will fight the decision.

Under the suspension, Batasuna's offices would be closed, its rallies banned and its political campaigning stopped.

However the party's local councillors would be allowed to continue their duties.

"Terrorist links"

Several thousand Batasuna supporters demonstrated on Friday outside the town hall in the Basque city of Bilbao.

Protesters carried banners and shouted slogans in favour of Basque independence.

Batasuna spokesman Joseba Permach said afterwards it was wrong to think that Mr Garzon or anyone else could finish the party off.

"This ban will find an appropriate response on every street in the Basque region," he was quoted as saying.

Baltasar Garzon
Garzon: Already banned several separatist groups
Baltasar Garzon, who spearheaded Spain's attempts to prosecute former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, accuses the party of supporting and funding ETA and being part of its "terrorist complex".

He has given lawyers until noon (1000 GMT) on Monday to present their arguments against the ban in writing.

Batasuna won 10% of the vote in Basque elections last year, but the initiatives to ban it have the support of most Spanish parties, including the opposition Socialists.

Mr Garzon has already banned several separatist groups for alleged ties to ETA.

Earlier this week, he sought approval from public prosecutors of the National High Court to go ahead with plans to ban Batasuna.

The prosecutors have now backed the idea, and correspondents say the ban is little more than a formality.

Basque regional authorities are expected to send police to close Batasuna offices on Monday, and public meetings, rallies and publicity will be banned.

Batasuna warning

Anti-ETA demonstration
Feeling against Basque separatism is running high
ETA is widely reviled throughout Spain, but the moves to ban Batasuna have angered mainstream Basque leaders who say they may backfire and lead to more violence.

Batasuna has warned that unspecified "measures" will be taken if regional authorities side with the state.

ETA is held responsible for more than 800 deaths since its campaign for Basque independence began in 1968, and is regarded as a terrorist group by the EU and the US.

Government case

The Spanish Government's separate plan to ban Batasuna through parliament and the courts, is based on a two-month-old law directed against parties that support terrorism.

On Wednesday, it presented a 23-point legal summary laying out its case against Batasuna.

Six of the arguments stem from Batasuna's failure to condemn an ETA car bomb in the beach resort of Santa Pola on 4 August, which killed a six-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man.

Others result from comments and actions by Batasuna party leaders, some of whom have expressed sympathy for ETA's cause.

One point details how people attending a Batasuna rally on 11 August shouted slogans in favour of ETA.

The document also states that many members of Batasuna are members of ETA.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Bilbao
"The anger is unmistakable"
The BBC's Tim Franks
"The alluring surface of the Bilbao festivals belie a bloody and widening gulf"
Basque MP for Partido Popular Gustavo De Aristegui
"We think Batasuna is a very prominent and important part of ETA"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Batasuna ban
Is it the right move or could it backfire?

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See also:

05 Aug 02 | Europe
22 Jun 02 | Europe
11 Jul 02 | UK
24 Jul 02 | Europe
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