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Basque separatists ETA declare ceasefire

Written by: Staff
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MADRID, Mar 22 (Reuters) Basque separatist group ETA today declared a permanent ceasefire after almost four decades of bombings and shootings that marked its campaign for independence from Spain.

ETA said it hoped the truce, due to start on Friday, would move forward its desire for Basques to be recognised as a people.

In a message posted on the Web site of Basque newspaper Gara, the usual vehicle for ETA statements, the group said it wanted ''Basque citizens to have their say and power to decide on their future''.

''ETA has decided to declare a ceasefire which will come into effect on Friday and will be permanent,'' Gara said in a special edition posted on its Web site www.gara.net.

A ceasefire could open the way to talks with the Socialist government, which is far more inclined to cede more power to Spain's regions than the previous conservative government.

ETA's historical demands are for an independent Basque state carved out of northern Spain and southwestern France. The group has killed 850 people and threatened and extorted thousands of Basque businesses over the years.

Gara quoted ETA as saying that France and Spain ''must recognise the results of this democratic process, with no type of limitation''.

ETA, which is classed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, previously declared a ceasefire in the late 1990s only to rescind it two years later.

Some politicians were wary of how seriously to take the latest ETA truce.

''Experience has shown we should be cautious with ETA communiques,'' said Artur Mas, leader of the Catalan nationalist party CiU. ''Terrorist violence has affected us all.'' ''When we see it in black and white, we will all be able to give our opinions.'' Since 2003 ETA has set off only small bombs, which have caused damage to buildings but no deaths.

REUTERS DKS KN1814

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