Thousands rally against Basque group ETA in Spain
Protesters urge the govt to bar anyone from ETA from running in elections.
Madrid: Tens of thousands of people marched in Madrid on Saturday to protest the Basque separatist group ETA and urge the government to bar anyone linked to it from running in regional and local elections.
Basque separatists launched a new party called Sortu on Feb. 7 in a bid to field pro-independence candidates in elections to be held May 22.
The Supreme Court denied Sortu legal status on March 24 and barred it from elections, saying it is a repackaged version of ETA`s outlawed political wing Batasuna.
Sortu can appeal to the Constitutional Court, and the rally in downtown Madrid was called by victims of terrorism associations to urge government and legal institutions to bar pro-ETA activists from running for office.
"We demand the government stops ETA sympathizers from accessing taxpayers` money by getting themselves elected to public office," said Conchita Martin, whose husband Col. Pedro Antonio Blanco was killed by ETA in 1999.
Protesters carried Spanish flags and banners reading "For the defeat of terrorism: ETA barred from elections."
"It would be a betrayal of victims of ETA terrorism to allow Sortu to be legalized, or to permit sympathizers to join other already legal parties in order to run for office," said Almudena Portero, 28, who was handing out posters. She said she is an activist in Spain`s main conservative opposition Popular Party.
Sortu emerged after intense debates within ETA-linked pro-independence groups which concluded that bombs and bullets were no longer an effective way to seek a Basque state independent of Spain and France.
The Spanish government has repeatedly said Batasuna and its members must reject ETA and condemn violence in order to regain legal status and take part in politics.
ETA declared a cease-fire in September. In January it called the cease-fire permanent, although it has called 11 truces throughout its 40-year history of violent separatism.
The most recent "permanent" cease-fire was in 2006, but it ended with a car bomb at a parking garage at Madrid`s international airport that killed two people after attempted negotiations with the government were perceived by ETA to be going nowhere.
ETA has killed more than 825 people since the late 1960s and is considered a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the US.