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Page last updated at 19:05 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 20:05 UK

Basques back non-nationalist rule

Basque Socialist party leader Patxi Lopez in Bilbao (03 March 2009)
Socialist leader Patxi Lopez is expected to be the region's leader

The parliament in the Basque region of Spain has voted in its first non-nationalist government in 30 years.

The Basque Socialist Party (PSOE) and the centre-right Popular Party (PP) agreed last month to govern together.

The new coalition will turn its back on demands for sovereignty, focusing instead on security and the economy.

Security in the Basque capital Vitoria is tight. Eta militants have described new Socialist parliamentary leader Patxi Lopez as a "priority target".

Eta earlier branded the regional parliament election "undemocratic" after radical separatist parties were excluded.

An alleged senior Eta member arrested in France last month is said to have been planning a bomb attack to coincide with the handover of power.

'Real concerns'

The PSOE-PP coalition was formed after the Basque Nationalists failed to win an outright majority in March's election.

In an evening vote, the parliament confirmed the new coalition, electing Mr Lopez to a four-year term as its head by 39 votes to 35.

The new administration will not concern itself with talk of Basque sovereignty or of renegotiating constitutional ties with Madrid, correspondents say.

Addressing the Basque parliament earlier in the day, Mr Lopez promised a "new political era" if he was elected Lehendakari, or president of the regional government.

The PSOE leader's said his first priority was to "put an end to the terrorism of Eta" and then to address other "real concerns" of voters, notably the economy.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

"We are closer to the end of Eta, but we have not arrived at that point yet," he said in a reference to the recent arrest of Jurdan Martitegi, believed to be the group's latest military leader.

Mr Lopez spoke in Basque as well as Spanish, promising respect for different traditions and cultures.

"I am not going to govern just for some but for all," he said.

But the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which won the election but fell short of an absolute majority, portrays Mr Lopez as a puppet of Spain's Socialist government in Madrid, the BBC's Steve Kingstone in Madrid reports.

They say his policies will erode Basque identity, our correspondent adds.

The new PSOE-PP coalition unequivocally supports the Basque region remaining part of Spain, reversing almost 30 years of nationalist tradition.

It has also pledged to give more resources to the police to tackle Eta, which has been blamed for the deaths of more than 820 people during its 40-year independence campaign.

The Spanish and Basque languages are also set to be put on an equal footing to address what some say is discrimination against non-Basque speakers.



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