Basque Rally in Spain Calls Attention to ETA Prisoners

Posted January 7th, 2012 at 5:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of protesters marched in the streets of the northern Spanish city of Bilbao Saturday demanding the right for ETA prisoners to serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home region.

Spain has dispersed the imprisoned former members of the armed Basque separatist group under its anti-terrorism law. Hundreds of ETA prisoners are held in jails around Spain and France. One purpose of the law was to prevent those convicted of terrorism from communicating among themselves and planning subversive strategies.

Protesters marching in the capital of Spain's Basque region carried banners saying “Basque prisoners to the Basque region” and asking for amnesty. They clogged the central streets, but they refrained from chanting to avoid being dispersed. Spanish daily newspaper El Pais said some of the buses bringing more protesters to the city were not allowed to enter.

Basque politician Patxi Zabaleta said the time has come for his people to fight for their rights.

“This demonstration marks the end of an era. Now power is in the hands of the people and this means it is in our favor. History has shown us that conflict resolution has to solve the issue of prisoners and refugees.”

But one protester whose son is in prison said she had little hope that the protest will achieve its aim because it was bound by too many restrictions.

“No! I used to have a bit of hope but now… today, when we are not bringing photos, no this, no that, no… everything is… everything is no! In other words, I really don't know. What it will be like now with the change of government, how it's going to be now. They said it will be easier but there's nothing new.”

However, Basque musician Fermin Muguruza said the action and its success are very important to get the authorities to respond with necessary humanitarian and political measures.

“It is very important to begin the year like this with a calendar of protests demanding that our prisoners come to the Basque country. In any peace process in which armed struggle has stopped, this step is needed. It is important that the echo of the success of this protest is heard in all the world, and especially Madrid and Paris so that they take measures, humanitarian and political.”

Saturday's protest is the first that the Basques have organized since the new conservative government took power in December.

ETA declared in October that it is ending its armed fight for an independent homeland, but it did not say it would disarm or allow inspections of decommissioned weapons.

The group has killed 829 people in its fight for independence since the late 1960s and it is classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.