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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 March, 2004, 11:09 GMT
Eta seeks dialogue with Zapatero
Anti-Eta protest
Eta faced a wave of public opprobrium in the wake of the Madrid attacks
Basque separatist group Eta has said it wants dialogue with Spain's incoming Socialist government, but will continue its fight for independence.

The group called on new prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to make "strong and courageous" moves for peace.

However, it said it reserved the right to use violence in order to achieve its aim of Basque independence.

The group was initially blamed for the Madrid bombs which killed 202 and injured 1,400, despite its denials.

Finger of blame

However, that position began to change when a stolen van was found near the route of the trains, containing detonators and a recording of Koranic verses, indicating a possible connection to Islamic militants.

The bombings are now being attributed to Islamic extremists seeking revenge for Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's backing of the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Zapatero has called dialogue to end violence
Five men - three Moroccans and two Indians - are in Spanish custody, suspected of involvement with the attacks.

Another five unidentified suspects have also been detained.

Eta, which has waged a bloody campaign for 36 years, released the statement through the Basque newspaper Gara - a method it has used to before.

In this latest communique, the group says it is "disposed to pursue a solution through dialogue" with Mr Zapatero's government, which won Spain's general election a week ago.

But the separatist movement also said that it remained committed to its decision to "continue the struggle" for an independent Basque homeland through violence.

Backlash

Mr Zapatero last week called for "dialogue, intelligence and good sense" to end the violence and find a solution that was acceptable" for all.

But his socialist party is reported to have already dismissed Eta's overture:

"We give no validity to a communique from Eta which is a terrorist group," a Socialist Party spokeswoman told Reuters.

The outgoing government led by Mr Aznar took a strong line against Eta, but the speed with which it blamed the group for the Madrid attacks contributed to a backlash on election day, which saw Mr Zapatero win, contrary to all predictions.

Eta has been waging a violent campaign since 1968 to achieve an independent homeland covering the French and Spanish Basque regions and the adjacent Spanish region of Navarra.

More than 800 people have died in the conflict, which has affected not only the wealthy northern region, but other parts of Spain.


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