JUSTICE

Basque separatist leader Otegi sees jail term reduced

But Supreme Court still considers former Batasuna chief part of ETA structure

The Supreme Court has reduced a prison sentence against Basque radical leader Arnaldo Otegi from 10 to six years, arguing that he is guilty of terrorist association but that it cannot be proven that he held a position of leadership.

Otegi, a longtime spokesman for the political wing of terrorist group ETA (variously known as Herri Batasuna, Euskal Herritarrok and Batasuna), has been in and out of prison for decades on various convictions connected with terrorist activities, including the kidnapping of a Basque businessman. He has also been an member of the Basque Parliament. In recent years, Otegi became the leading figure in a move by radical Basque sectors to distance themselves from ETA and pursue their goal of sovereignty through legal means.

Some critics viewed this merely as an attempt to get former members of the outlawed Batasuna back into politics in time for Basque elections last year, in which Bildu, a coalition that included Batasuna members, effectively won the most votes.

The High Court originally sentenced Otegi (and his colleague Rafael Díez Usabiaga) to 10 years for terrorist association and for being "authorized spokesmen" for the Basque radical left as decided by ETA in a coordination committee. Within this committee, Otegi and Usabiaga were "the driving forces" behind ETA's new strategy, which favored political methods over military ones, but without actually renouncing their weapons.

Otegi has already served three years of that sentence. However, the Supreme Court now rules that "there is no difficulty in considering them part of the terrorist group ETA" since the criminal organization put them in charge of "the job of negotiating and bringing together the pro-sovereignty forces in the Basque Country," acting under ETA's aegis and direction.

But, says the court, "this coordination does not justify his classification as a leader." Instead, both Otegi and Usabiaga are seen to have held similar positions as other defendants in the same case. In Otegi's case, he was basically the "visible face for the media of the new strategy conceived by ETA."

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