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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Police storm Basque separatists' offices
Police in San Sebastian clash with Batasuna supporters
Police acted on the orders of a senior judge
Spanish riot police have stormed the Bilbao offices of the suspended Basque nationalist party, Batasuna.

Police dragged away protesters and smashed down a reinforced door after sawing through the chains with which Batasuna members had locked themselves into the party's office.

We will exhaust all judicial avenues in Spain and could appeal to the European court of justice in Strasbourg

Arnaldo Otegi
The action came a day after Judge Baltasar Garzon suspended Batasuna from political activity for three years on the grounds that it was linked to the armed separatist group, ETA.

The move has been welcomed by Washington, which on Tuesday said the crackdown was aimed at fighting terrorism and not at curbing freedom.

"Like any sovereign democracy, the legitimately elected government of Spain has a right to use every democratically elected institution, law or court system to defend itself against terrorist organisations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Batasuna denies being linked to ETA.

After storming Batasuna's Bilbao offices, police nailed wooden planks across the doorways.

Officers swung clubs and fired rubber bullets during the clashes, and at least 20 protesters were reported to have been injured, mostly with bruising.

Party resistance

Violence was also reported in the Basque city of San Sebastian, although it is believed no-one has been arrested or injured.

Earlier on Tuesday, police said they had defused a bomb near San Sebastian.

The bomb was outside a courthouse in the town of Tolosa, after a caller claiming to represent ETA telephoned the Basque newspaper Gara on Monday night.

Police cordoned off the area around the courthouse, but the device failed to go off, and bomb disposal experts set off a controlled explosion to disable it.

Court ruling
Public rallies and demonstrations banned
Offices to be closed, with water, electricity and telephones cut off
Party representatives barred from next year's local elections
All assets seized and bank accounts frozen

There has also been sporadic violence in the Basque country with reports of masked youths smashing a bus in San Sebastian.

About 20 party officials and supporters were evicted from the Pamplona office during the late-night operation on Monday.

Scores of onlookers watched as the raid took place, shouting at officers and calling them fascists.

Fernando Barrena, the spokesman for the Batasuna party in the Navarra province, which includes Pamplona, was one of those evicted.

"This is what they mean in Madrid when they talk about democracy and peace," he told Spanish news agency Efe.

On the same day that Judge Garzon ordered the suspension, the Spanish parliament voted overwhelmingly to ask the Supreme Court to outlaw Batasuna altogether.

Batasuna supporters in Pamplona
Batasuna has vowed to fight the ban
Batasuna has vowed to fight the judge's ruling with an appeal as far as the European Court of Justice, if necessary.

Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi was quoted by the news agency AFP as saying the ban had been imposed by the "fascist government in Madrid".

Mr Garzon says he has strong evidence linking the party to ETA, which has killed more than 800 people in its 27-year campaign for an independent Basque state.

The suspension means Batasuna will not be allowed to hold public demonstrations or political rallies, and representatives will not be allowed to stand in next year's local elections.

Only its parliamentarians and local council members will be allowed to continue their work.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The police were in no mood to be gentle"

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