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TOWARD THE END OF TERRORISM

Denying early release of ETA inmate would have been “breach of law,” says minister

Interior Ministry faces criticism over decision to grant concession to ETA kidnapper

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Jorge Fernández Díaz during a press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, on Thursday.
Jorge Fernández Díaz during a press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, on Thursday.Fernando Alvarado (EFE)

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said Thursday that although he understood criticism over the government granting ETA kidnapper Iosu Uribetxeberría third-degree status, not having done so would have constituted "a breach of the law."

"We can disagree, but all of us are subject to the rule of law," said the minister, who added that the decision had been "painful, but absolutely in line with the application of the law."

Uribetxeberría, who was sentenced to 32 years for the 1998 kidnapping of prison director José Antonio Ortega Lara, has terminal cancer and staged a hunger strike to be permitted early release. Scores of ETA prisoners joined his protest, to pressurize the government. The ministry's downgrading of his status paves the way for his early release. Fernández Díaz said his department had little choice but to go ahead after medical reports confirmed Uribetxeberría's illness.

"We understand the incomprehension of the victims, but not other criticism," he said, in reference to opposition from within the Popular Party itself. The AVT victims' association, normally an ally of the PP in ETA policy, has threatened to stage its own hunger strike in protest.

The minister said accusations the government had caved in to blackmail were "offensive." During the previous PP legislature his predecessor, Jaime Mayor Oreja, who has been a vocal opponent of the decision, granted early release to 18 ETA prisoners.

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