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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Europe wary of banning parties
Batasuna demonstration against the ban
Batasuna has a mass following in the Basque country
In suspending Batasuna, the Spanish authorities have singled out the Basque nationalist group for treatment meted out only to violent - and often neo-Nazi - groups in the rest of Western Europe.

France has used a 1936 law allowing the government to dissolve private militias to ban a number of far-right groups - such as the neo-fascist New Order and the Defence Union Group (GUD) - as well as the 1970s left-wing urban guerrilla group Action Directe.

The last time the French authorities resorted to the 1936 law was last month. They outlawed Radical Unity, a tiny neo-Nazi group, after one of its members tried to assassinate President Chirac during a Bastille Day Parade.

Arrest of a man accused of trying to kill President Chirac on 14 July
President Chirac's attacker was said to a neo-Nazi
In Germany, the constitution bans parties which are proven to be anti-democratic. So far, two German parties have been outlawed since the end of World War II, one Communist and one Nazi - the successor to Hitler's National Socialists.

Last year the German Government also tried to disband the far-right National Democratic Party (NDP), which has a membership of 6,000.

But the attempt suffered a serious setback in January after a number of NDP members brought forward to give evidence in the case were revealed to have been government informants.

Germany's constitutional court has decided to delay its hearing until next month's general elections.


The lesson from Northern Ireland is that if the Spanish Government moves Batasuna out of the picture, ETA violence will intensify

Eamon Phoenix
Queen's University, Belfast
Batasuna's most obvious foreign counterpart is Sinn Fein, widely viewed as the political arm of the IRA, which wants a united Ireland.

The UK Government never outlawed Sinn Fein, and lines of communication were maintained even at the height of IRA violence.

But one drastic step was used against Sinn Fein by the UK Government. In 1988, the Conservative administration of Margaret Thatcher banned the voices of Sinn Fein representatives from being broadcast, saying it wanted to "starve them of the oxygen of publicity".

UK broadcasters responded by using actors' voices when reporting the words of Sinn Fein, while lobbying furiously against the ban. It was lifted in 1994 under John Major's leadership, as the government's focus shifted from defeat towards dialogue.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams had his voice, but not his party, banned
Conflict resolution experts had thought that the Irish peace process, involving Sinn Fein and the IRA, could provide some kind of model for Spain, especially given the close political links between current UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Anzar.

But Spain's decision to press ahead with the ban could backfire, triggering more violence, said analysts with experience of the Northern Ireland situation.

"The lesson from Northern Ireland is that if the Spanish Government moves Batasuna out of the picture, ETA violence will intensify," said Eamon Phoenix of Belfast's Queen's University.

"That has been the pattern - when you have a political vacuum, violence tends to flourish."

Turkish moves

Parallels have also been drawn between Spain and Turkey, where moves are under way to ban the country's only legal Kurdish Party, the People's Democracy Party (HADEP).

The authorities say the party has links with the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which itself announced earlier this year that it would disband and reform under a new name.

In certain situations, restrictions on political parties or individuals can help build democratic structures, says Tony Borden, executive director of the Instutute for War and Peace Reporting in London, but only where the ban is "clear, decisive and upfront".

But as a general rule, governments which ban political parties do so at their own risk, he warns.


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