Basque party Batasuna announces dissolution

Basque party Batasuna announces dissolution

BAYONNE, France - Agence France-Presse
Basque party Batasuna announces dissolution

French Basque separatist activists of the Batasuna party, Maite Goyenetxe (l) and Jean Claude Aguerre give a press conference, on January 3, 2012 in Bayonne, southwestern France, to announce the dissolution of their party in France. AFP photo / GAIZKA IROZ

The French arm of Basque nationalist party Batasuna said Thursday it was shutting down, putting an end to the movement long seen as the political wing of armed separatist group ETA.

Banned in Spain since 2003, Batasuna continued to operate legally in France to push for independence for the traditional Basque homeland straddling the border of France and Spain.

The party's final dissolution comes after ETA in 2011 announced it had abandoned violence following a four-decade independence campaign that claimed more than 800 lives.

"We are announcing the dissolution of Batasuna," two spokespersons for the party, Maite Goyenetxe and Jean Claude Aguerre, told journalists in Bayonne, the main city in France's Basque region.

"We affirm that we will achieve the project of building Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) only by political means, in the face of the oppressive French and Spanish states," Goyenetxe said.

They said the Basque separatist movement had entered a "new political phase" and that Batasuna was no longer a viable political tool.

Batasuna was founded in 2001 as a successor to, among other parties, the Herri Batasuna (Popular Unity) party that had fought for independence since 1978.

Its banning by the Spanish Supreme Court marked the first time a political party was outlawed in Spain since it returned to democracy after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

Since its banning, former members and supporters of Batasuna in Spain have rallied around a left-wing separatist coalition, Euskal Herria Bildu, which was created last year.

The coalition came second in regional elections in October, winning 21 seats to 27 for the conservative Basque Nationalist Party, which wants greater autonomy for the northwestern Spanish region, home to 2.2 million people.

ETA, weakened after years of arrests of its senior leaders, has not committed an attack on Spanish territory since August 2009.

ETA has said it is ready to discuss disbanding and disarming, but the Spanish government has refused to hold talks with its leaders. ETA is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

The separatists are keen to have Spain agree to talks on issues including disarmament so they can press demands for the release of prisoners and transfer of inmates, many of whom are held in the south of Spain, closer to their homes.

A French Basque activist, Aurore Martin, was released on bail in Spain on December 22 after being held on charges of participating in a terrorist organisation, after she allegedly took part in public meetings in the country as a member of Batasuna.