Spanish leaders in anti-ETA pact

 

Spain's two leading political parties closed ranks against the Basque separatist group ETA yesterday by signing an anti-terrorism pact. However, other democratic parties attacked the agreement for excluding more moderate Basque nationalists.

The ruling Popular Party and the opposition Socialists say the pact reaffirms their commitment to defeating terrorism without concessions. The Accord for Freedom and Against Terrorism also ruled out talks with the nationalist-led Basque regional government until it severs all ties with groups close to the armed separatists. ETA, which demands an independent Basque state, has been linked to 21 killings so far in 2000, its bloodiest year since 1992.

The pact severely strained already tense relations between Madrid and the Basque government, which supports moves towards Basque self-rule but condemns ETA's violence.

"It is a big step backwards politically," said Mr Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the Basque region's first minister. "It is a barbarity, authentic political nonsense."

The nationalists say Spain needs to talk with all groups, including pro-independence radicals, to achieve a lasting ceasefire, just as Britain established ties with Sinn Fein in the Northern Irish peace process.

The new pact comes after many demonstrators at a huge anti-ETA protest in Barcelona in November urged the Spanish and Basque governments to settle their differences and jointly fight the armed separatists. The Socialist Party also recently called for immediate dialogue with the nationalists, but that proposal was dropped from yesterday's pact.

"This is a very serious undertaking in the fight against terrorism which will above all guarantee the freedom of all citizens in the Basque Country," the Socialist leader, Mr Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said.

The heads of the powerful Catalonia region and Spain's Communist-led United Left coalition said they would not sign up unless the Basque nationalists were invited to join talks.

Mr Javier Arenas, secretary general of the Popular Party denied yesterday's pact sought to exclude all nationalists. "It is a document against nationalists who kill, or any supporter of nationalists who kill."