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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 June 2006, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Don't surrender to Eta, protesters say
By Danny Wood
BBC News, Madrid

Waving Spanish flags, wearing stickers and holding placards, tens of thousands of Spaniards gathered in the heart of Madrid on Saturday to declare their opposition to talks with the militant, Basque separatist group Eta.

Protesters in Madrid
Protesters say they speak for a majority of Spaniards
According to police figures, more than 200,000 people flocked to the Plaza de Colon as a response to the government's plan to announce the start of dialogue with Eta later this month.

That plan to open talks follows Eta's declaration in March of a permanent ceasefire. But the protesters believe their government is giving in to terrorism.

The Association for the Victims of Terrorism, which organised the rally, claims that the majority of Spaniards are against the proposed talks.

Victims' associations says the government is dishonouring the memory of more than 800 people who have died as a result of Eta attacks.

The opposition Popular Party, which was strongly behind this demonstration, argues that Eta must disband before dialogue can begin.

Thousands of Popular Party members and supporters who attended this demonstration, like Anna Bario, say the government is surrendering to terrorism.

It's not moral to talk with Eta because they have killed nearly 1,000 people in 40 years
Alfonso Maraleda
"You don't talk to terrorists unless terrorists say 'we want peace, we will give up violence and we will give the government our weapons'. They have not said that," she said.

Like many Spaniards, she does not think dialogue with Eta will bring peace to the Basque region.

"My message to the prime minister is that the only way to defeat the terrorists is to follow the law and to defeat them with the judicial system and with the police."

Concession fears

For others, like university student Alfonso Maraleda, this is a moral issue.

"I think it's not moral to talk with Eta because they have killed nearly 1,000 people in 40 years and we are fed up with them."

There is also a fear that if the government engages in talks with the armed separatists it will be forced to give concessions, like releasing prisoners, or granting more political powers to the Basque region.

Jaime Bardisa, another student at the demonstration, believes that to solve the conflict in the Basque Region there has to be a winner and a loser.

"The loser must be the assassins and the winner must be the people," he said.

Many Spaniards, if not against, are certainly very concerned about the government's intention to talk with Eta.

But the Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, says he is convinced that the vast majority of citizens support his attempt to bring peace to Basque region.

And, as long as the Eta ceasefire holds, Spain's prime minister is unlikely to change his plan to announce the start of dialogue with armed separatists by the end of June.



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