Outlawed ETA group forms new party, rejects violence

Madrid, Feb 7 (AFP) The outlawed political wing of armedBasque separatists ETA announced today its rebirth as a newparty that rejects violence and intends to contest elections.

Batasuna has been ruled illegal since 2003 because of itslinks to ETA, whose bloody battle for a Basque homelandindependent of Spain has been blamed for 829 deaths in morethan four decades.

The outlawed party has previously said it opposesviolence without actually condemning ETA''s violent past.

The new party, which aims to contest local elections inMay, "rejects and opposes the use of violence... includingthat of ETA," announced Basque nationalist Rufi Etxeberria, anhistoric leader of Batasuna.

"It is therefore an explicit rejection of violence,"Etxeberria said in Bilbao. "This is a direct consequence ofour commitment to exclusively political and democraticroutes."

The new principles were enshrined in the new statutes ofthe party, the Batasuna leader added in his televisedappearance.

"These new statutes are in order to reclaim our legalstatus," he said. "There is no going back."

Batasuna plans to present the new statutes to Spain''sInterior Ministry on Wednesday.

Spain''s government has shown deep scepticism aboutBatasuna''s conversion; it demands that Batasuna convince ETAto disarm permanently and unconditionally or that it breakwith ETA completely.

If the ministry refuses to accept the party''s newstatutes, as seems likely, the courts would have to decide.

ETA on January 10 declared a "permanent and generalceasefire" to be verified by the international community.

But this, too, was received with scepticism in much ofSpain, largely because the statement made no mention ofdisarming, and it contained political demands that assumed anegotiating role for ETA.

Spain''s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hasbeen extremely prudent in its dealings with ETA, scarred bythe memories of its attempt to negotiate with the group fiveyears ago.

ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But ninemonths later, it set off a bomb in the carpark ofMadrid-Barajas airport, killing two men. (AFP)

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