Tens of thousands of people have protested in the Basque city of Bilbao calling for some 350 imprisoned members and sympathizers of the armed pro-Basque independence group ETA to be allowed serve their sentences closer to home in northern Spain.
In addition to prisoner families, relatives of victims of ETA took part for the first time in the annual demonstration. Protesters held placards reading “I Denounce” against the Spanish government’s policy of dispersing ETA prisoners in 40 prisons across Spain to restrict contacts between them.
ETA, an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization in northern Spain and southwestern France. The group was founded in 1959 and later evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group engaged in a violent campaign of bombing, assassinations and kidnappings in the Spanish Basque country and throughout Spanish territory. Its goal was gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country. ETA is the main group within the Basque National Liberation Movement and is the most important participant in the Basque conflict.
Since 1968, ETA has been held responsible for killing 829 people, injuring thousands and undertaking dozens of kidnappings.The group is proscribed as a terrorist group by Spain, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the European Union. This convention is followed by a plurality of domestic and international media, which also refer to the group as “terrorists”. There are more than 350 imprisoned members of the group in Spain, France, and other countries.
ETA declared ceasefires in 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2006, and subsequently broke them. On 5 September 2010, ETA declared a new ceasefire that is still in force, and on 20 October 2011, ETA announced a “definitive cessation of its armed activity”. On 24 November 2012, it was reported that the group was ready to negotiate a “definitive end” to its operations and disband completely.
ETA’s motto is Bietan jarrai (“Keep up on both”), referring to the two figures in its symbol, a snake (representing politics) wrapped around an axe (representing armed struggle)
Spain’s Interior Ministry says there will be no change in its dispersion policy until the group fully disarms and its members ask for pardons.