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EU welcomes ETA ceasefire, cautious on Batasuna

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, Mar 23 (Reuters) The European Union today welcomed a ceasefire announcement by the Basque separatist group ETA and Spain's prime minister thanked the bloc for helping pave the way for the end to the conflict.

''This is a very positive sign,'' Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told reporters when asked about ETA's statement yesterday that it was ordering a permanent ceasefire in its armed campaign for independence.

Austria holds the presidency of the EU.

Schuessel said EU leaders would discuss the announcement with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at an EU summit in Brussels.

He said it was too soon to comment on whether the Batasuna party, considered ETA's political wing, might be removed from the EU's list of terrorist organisations.

''It's something we will be discussing today with Prime Minister Zapatero in an appropriate setting here. It's a positive situation but I have no mandate to make any statement on behalf of the EU.'' Zapatero thanked the EU for its support for Spain's attempts to end the conflict.

''Thank you, Europe...for your support for peace in Spain,'' he said at a ceremony in Brussels to mark 20 years' EU membership of Spain and Portugal.

French President Jacques Chirac congratulated the Spanish leader during a brief meeting on the sidelines on the EU summit.

''It's a great hope for Spain and Europe,'' a presidential spokesman quoted Chirac as telling Zapatero.

Reuters DH VP0052

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