Zapatero calls ETA inmates' Gernika announcement a "significant" step

Prisoners' support of end to violence met with skepticism by PP, attorney general

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on Monday described the decision by more than 700 ETA prisoners held in Spanish jails to support the Gernika accord, which calls for the definitive end to violence on the part of the Basque terrorist organization, "a significant step."

Speaking after the official dissolution of parliament that marked Zapatero's final act as prime minister at the seat of government in Madrid, the outgoing leader called for "prudence" over the announcement, made on Saturday, and praised the "efforts of all democrats and of this government" toward the definitive end to ETA's five decades of violence. "[ETA] has been the principal concern of this country for many years, and that which has made us suffer the most," Zapatero noted.

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The declaration on Saturday of two former ETA prisoners that the Gernika accord had received the backing of the jailed terrorist fraternity placed further pressure on the beleaguered organization to disband definitively. A series of high-profile police raids and arrests carried out by Spanish and French security forces in recent years has left ETA with as few as 50 active members, according to police estimates. Around 90 percent of ETA's membership is currently inside Spain's prisons.

The Gernika accord is a broad-ranging document drawn up by the abertzale, the Basque pro-independence left bloc of political entities. The accord requires ETA to subscribe to a definitive disbandment so that the objectives of the abertzale can be pursued purely through legitimate political channels.

However, the latest step toward a permanent end to ETA arrived with the same caveats that have met with criticism in previous instances: jailed ETA terrorists have railed against their treatment and called for a general amnesty. Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido on Monday described the prisoners' demands as "intolerable."

"The only thing we expect from them is that they dissolve," Conde-Pumpido added.

Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy responded to Zapatero minutes after the prime minister's speech from the headquarters of the opposition in Génova street: "For me what is decisive is a message from ETA," Rajoy said, adding that his party will be "very attentive to the people in these candidacies," in reference to the abertzale radical left in the Basque Country and its political platform, Bildu, which won power in several municipalities in May's local elections.

Bildu was given leave to field candidates in the May ballots after the Constitutional Court overturned a Supreme Court ruling banning Bildu candidates from the slates. The likelihood of Sortu, which was denied legalization by the Supreme Court in a nine-to-seven vote by the country's highest legal body in April, being allowed to run in November remains slim after the advocate general joined Conde-Pumpido in warning that Sortu remains under the influence of ETA's leadership.

"They are four hands playing the same instrument," the advocate general wrote in reference to ETA and the banned formation. Sortu's party statutes included the rejection of ETA violence but the advocate general stressed that until a definitive break with ETA is forthcoming, "the abertzale left, whether outlawed or legalized, cannot aspire to be put on the same level of political normality as other parties."

Abertzale leaders in August stated that ETA's end is "irreversible," but is unlikely to be formalized before the general election.

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