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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Spain PM ready to open Eta talks
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Mr Zapatero's move has divided Spanish opinion
The Spanish prime minister has said his government will begin talks with the banned Basque separatist group Eta.

The statement in parliament by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist, was broadcast live on Spanish TV.

"The government is going to start negotiations with Eta," he said. The group is demanding Basque independence.

Eta declared a permanent ceasefire on 22 March. The group has been waging an armed campaign for more than 30 years and is blamed for more than 800 deaths.

'Long, tough' process

Before Mr Zapatero's statement, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba had met party leaders to discuss the verification of the ceasefire.

A TV shot of the video in which pro-independence armed Basque group ETA declares a permanent ceasefire, 22 March 2006
Eta is deemed to have stuck to its ceasefire
Spain's opposition Popular Party (PP) recently broke off co-operation with the government, after the Basque branch of the Socialist Party said it would pursue talks with Batasuna, Eta's banned political wing.

Mr Zapatero stressed that "democracy will not pay any political price to achieve peace" with Eta and he did not give a date for the start of talks.

"The process is going to be long, tough and difficult. We'll handle it with determination and prudence, with unity and loyalty and always with respect to the memory of the victims," he said.

He said recognition of the different political viewpoints in the Basque region would set the ground rules for this process of dialogue.

Surveys show that the majority of Spaniards support his attempt to bring peace to the Basque region, but a large minority are completely against talking to Eta, the BBC's Danny Wood reports from Madrid.

Many victims' associations accuse the prime minister of surrendering to terrorism. They say the only way to defeat Eta is through the justice system and police actions.

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