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Wednesday, December 30, 1998 Published at 01:10 GMT

World: Europe

Basque president elected

President Ibarretxe and party leader Xavier Arzalluz meet the cameras

By Madrid Correspondent Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

The regional parliament in Spain's northern Basque region has met for the first time since elections in October and appointed a new president.

He is Juan Jose Ibarretxe, from the conservative Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV, who received the support of Herri Batasuna, the political wing of the Basque separatist group, ETA.

It was the first time the main nationalist parties, who support full independence for the Basque region, have worked so closely together.

In opposition are Spain's two main political parties, the conservative Popular Party and the Socialists, both of which oppose full independence.

The main challenge facing politicians from all sides is how to consolidate peace following the ceasefire declared by ETA in September.

That ceasefire has held and representatives from the government in Madrid and from ETA have held preliminary meetings to discuss how they will advance the peace process.

All sides in the conflict accepted that little could be done until the parliament was up and running and a new president elected. But that has not proved easy.

The largest party in the region, the PNV, failed to gain an overall majority and has had to form a coalition with another, smaller nationalist party, Euskal Alkartasuna.

They have also been promised the support on some issues of ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna.

The new president said he wants to see all the parties working together to establish peace.

How to consolidate that peace after 30 years of conflict, in which more than 800 people have been killed, is the issue which overshadows all else in the Basque region.

There is still a great deal of suspicion and anger on all sides.

But the politicians are well aware that the feeling is strong among many Basque people that this is the best chance they have had for many years to find a permanent end to the conflict.

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