Basque separatist leader is released from Spanish jail

A Basque leader and former member of the armed separatist group ETA who is credited with helping end violence in the northern Spanish region was on Tuesday released from jail.

AFP| Updated: Mar 01, 2016, 15:54 PM IST

Madrid: A Basque leader and former member of the armed separatist group ETA who is credited with helping end violence in the northern Spanish region was on Tuesday released from jail.

Arnaldo Otegi, 57, was met by about 200 supporters -- many waving red, white and green Basque flags -- as he left the prison in the northern city of Logrono.

He was freed after serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for trying to resurrect outlawed Basque separatist party Batasuna.

"There are those who say there are no political prisoners in the Spanish state. But there would not be so many media here today if it wasn`t for the fact that today a political prisoner left a Spanish jail," he said as his supporters chanted "Independence!"

Batasuna has been banned since 2003 for being the "political wing" of ETA, which is blamed for over 820 killings in its campaign of bombings and shootings to create an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Batasuna re-emerged as a legal pro-independence party, Sortu, which advocates for independence through democratic means.

Otegi was elected its secretary general in 2013 while in jail.

An active member of ETA since the age of 19, Otegi in the 1990s became one of the first ETA members to call for disarmament.

In 2006-2007, he was one of the main architects of peace negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government.

In October 2011 ETA declared a "definitive end to armed activity" but it has yet to formally disband or disarm.

While some hail Arnaldo Otegi as a hero, for others, especially relatives of ETA victims, he remains a hate figure.

Both his supporters and detractors predict he will play an important role, especially in regional elections slated for the year-end in the Basque Country.

He will not be eligible to run for office until 2022, although he can contest this restriction in court.