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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Analysis: What next for Batasuna?
Batasuna supporters with flags
Batasuna supporters marched in southern France

The Spanish cabinet is to ask the Supreme Court to approve a total ban on the activities of the separatist Basque political party Batasuna.

Earlier this week, the Spanish parliament approved a government request to ask the Supreme Court for the ban on the party.

The request is based upon the provisions of the new "law on parties", which outlaws any political grouping supporting violence.


If they're made illegal, they can curry support by presenting themselves as victims

Patxi Zabaleta
Basque politician
It could take weeks or months for the legal ruling to be established, but few in Spain doubt that it will be favourable to the government.

Batasuna meanwhile has vowed to carry on its fight in support of political independence for the Basque region.

"During the Franco years we faced the same situation, if not worse. We were made illegal, but the pro-independence movement continued," Batasuna lawyer Jone Goirizelaia said.

Click here to see a map of territory claimed by ETA

She said Batasuna would appeal against the government ban once it becomes official, taking their cases to European courts if necessary.

Basque country

The separatists claim that the historic "Basque country" stretches through northern Spain into southwestern France, and one tactic for Batasuna's survival could be to transfer their operations to the neighbouring country, where the organisation is not illegal.

Batasuna Bayonne office
Batasuna operates from this office in Bayonne
The Batasuna European Parliament member Koldo Gorostiaga has an office in the town of Bayonne in southern France, which continues to function.

Spanish judicial authorities are reported to be preparing a request to the French authorities to close this and other Batasuna offices in France.

In recent years, there has been closer co-operation between France and Spain over the activities of the armed separatist group ETA, of which Batasuna is accused of being the political wing.

Many suspected ETA members have been arrested in France, and at the moment requests for the extradition of two ETA members accused of murder are being considered.

Shoe factory

It may prove difficult to cut off Batasuna's international funding and communications.

According to reports in Thursday's El Pais newspaper, Batasuna has funds and supporters in several Latin American countries, including a shoe factory in Cuba co-owned by the National Ballet Company.

Spanish policeman in mask
Spanish police are closing the party's offices
Batasuna's official website is registered by a company in Australia, uses a server in the United States, and is administered from France.

Doubts have also been expressed as to how effective the ban will be on Batasuna's political future.

The party will no longer be able to hold public rallies or demonstrations, or stand in local and parliamentary elections.

Victims

But according to some political observers, the clampdown could prove counter-productive.

"The government has not destroyed Batasuna. It's handed it a huge present," Patxi Zabaleta, co-ordinator of the Basque nationalist party Aralar told the AFP news agency.

Aralar was formed by former Batasuna members who back its call for an independent Basque homeland, but condemn political violence.

"If they're made illegal, they can curry support by presenting themselves as victims," said Mr Zabaleta.

According to observers, there is nothing to stop Batasuna members presenting themselves as independent candidates in next year's municipal elections.

In response, the Aznar government has said it will pursue Batasuna ruthlessly in Spain and abroad, and is to ask the European Union to include Batasuna on its list of proscribed terrorist groups.



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