Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Archive
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK


World: Europe

Basque leaders freed

Arnaldo Ortegi, one of the main Basque nationalist leaders still free

The entire leadership of the Basque separatist party, Herri Batasuna, has been released from jail after Spain's constitutional court overturned their convictions.


The BBC's Daniel Schweimler: "Criticism of the court's decision came from the families of ETA's victims"
The majority verdict ruled that the jailing in 1997 of the 23 party leaders for having links with the illegal separatist group ETA was unconstitutional.

One of the group was released last year due to ill health.

Local media said that more than 1,000 supporters had gathered at the gates at one of the prisons in northern Spain to celebrate the releases. 7

After the verdict, Herri Batasuna official Joseba Permach said the state had no option but to free the prisoners following what he called " an aberration of justice".

Controversial decision


[ image:  ]
The decision should have been announced last week, but was postponed since the members of the court were reported to be split - a sign of the controversial nature of what they were being asked to do.

The Herri Batasuna party used a video showing members of armed ETA guerrillas as part of their electoral campaign in 1996.

The tape was seized before it could be broadcast.

The decision to jail the whole party leadership was met with outrage in the northern Basque region, but general joy in the rest of Spain.

The Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar called it an important step in the fight against terrorism.

Shortly afterwards, the courts closed a newspaper, Egin, which had close links with the Basque separatist movement.

Changing times


[ image: The party says it models much if its philosophy on that of Sinn Feinn in Norther Ireland]
The party says it models much if its philosophy on that of Sinn Feinn in Norther Ireland
The BBC's Madrid Correspondent, Daniel Schweimler, says much has changed since the Herri Batasuna leadership were sent to prison.

The party changed its name to Euskal Herittarrok for last year's regional elections, in which it increased its share of the vote.

The party's new leadership is also seen as having a more moderate stance than their predecessors and says it has modelled much of its strategy on that of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

Last September, ETA declared a ceasefire which so far has held.

Perhaps more significantly the authorities in both Spain and France arrested a number of high-profile ETA members, seriously weakening the armed organisation.

As a result both ETA and its political wing have been pressured into embracing peaceful means to try to achieve independence for the Basque region.

Correspondents say the announcement of the releases could also boost the fragile peace as ETA has made freedom for the former HB leaders a key demand in talks with the government.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©




Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia



Relevant Stories

21 Jul 99 | Europe
Changing face of Basque politics

21 Jul 99 | Monitoring
Release gets mixed response

13 Mar 99 | Europe
Analysis: ETA on the defensive

09 Jan 99 | Europe
ETA continues attacks

21 Jul 99 | Europe
Basque president elected

26 Oct 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
ETA interviewed: a captive audience





Internet Links


Spain's Interior Ministry (in Spanish)

Euskal Herritarrok (in Basque)

Basque Country Journal


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Violence greets Clinton visit

Russian forces pound Grozny

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Next steps for peace

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

Trans-Turkish pipeline deal signed

French party seeks new leader

Jube tube debut

Athens riots for Clinton visit

UN envoy discusses Chechnya in Moscow

Solana new Western European Union chief

Moldova's PM-designate withdraws

Chechen government welcomes summit

In pictures: Clinton's violent welcome

Georgia protests over Russian 'attack'

UN chief: No Chechen 'catastrophe'

New arms control treaty for Europe

From Business
Mannesmann fights back

EU fraud -- a billion-dollar bill

New moves in Spain's terror scandal

EU allows labelling of British beef

UN seeks more security in Chechnya

Athens riots for Clinton visit

Russia's media war over Chechnya

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Analysis: East-West relations must shift