Batasuna backs calls for end to ETA violence

Terrorists' political wing comes out in support of peace panel

Members of Batasuna, the banned political arm of ETA, on Tuesday fully backed calls made by an international panel the previous day for the Basque terrorist group to publicly declare an end to violence.

Batasuna leader Rufi Etxeberria said the radical abertzale independence-seeking group was in complete consonance with all of the recommendations announced Monday by the panel, which was led by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and also included Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

Those recommendations include ETA moving from the permanent ceasefire it declared in January to announcing a definitive end to its armed struggle for independence for the Basque Country. The text also urged France and Spain to open talks with ETA if it stated it had laid down its arms permanently.

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At a news conference in San Sebastián, where the panel delivered its recommendations on Monday, Etxeberria said he expected a "positive response" from ETA "when it considers it" opportune.

He described the conference for peace, headed by Annan, as an event of "historical dimensions" that has brought the Basque Country "closer than ever" to an end to violence. Etxeberria was accompanied by some 30 members of Batasuna, including the historic former ETA leader Eugenio Etxebeste, known as Antxon.

The chairman of the PNV center-right Basque nationalist party, Iñigo Urkullu, welcomed Batasuna's backing of the peace conference as a "further step in the right direction."

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