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Saturday, 14 September, 2002, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Police break up Basque protest
Riot police face marchers
Tens of thousands joined the march, some sources say
Spanish riot police have fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a march by thousands of nationalist supporters in the Basque city of Bilbao.

Water cannon were used to drench the marchers as they protested at a government crackdown on the Basque nationalist party Batasuna.

Marchers are doused by water cannon
Chants of "Freedom, freedom" went up in the Basque language
Rioting erupted with demonstrators hurling bottles, stones and rubbish bins at the police.

At least seven people were injured and four arrested.

Police wearing helmets and shields moved in soon after the march began, enforcing a ban announced by the regional government.

The Basque regional government had been resisting calls from Madrid to ban the march right up until Saturday when it finally asked police to take "the necessary measures to prevent the celebration of the march".

But thousands of people converged on the city centre in defiance of the order, waving banners reading "Long life to the Basque country!" and chanting "Independence!".

Resentment

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon Batasuna has suspended Batasuna for three years for its alleged links to Eta - a charge the party denies.

A Batasuna spokesman at Saturday's march, Arnaldo Otegi, told the marchers there would be "new demonstrations and new opportunities".

The BBC's Claire Marshall reports that resentment is growing across the Basque region against the tough action being taken by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government.

The regional Basque authorities came in for heavy criticism from the Spanish authorities for allowing a similar march to take place last weekend in the nearby city of San Sebastian.

Many see the suspension of Batasuna as an attempt to stifle the Basque nationalist cause.

However, our correspondent adds, the Spanish Government is intent on crushing any group they see as having links to terrorism.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall in Madrid
"The Spanish government says it must do all it can to crush what it says are terrorist groups"

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