Who are the Basque separatists?
Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA) stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom. The group seeks independence for seven regions in northern Spain and South-West France that they claim as their own. The ETA first appeared in the 1960s as a student resistance movement opposed to General Franco's military dictatorship (Franco banned the Basque language, suppressed their culture and had Basque intellectuals tortured for their beliefs).
Since Franco's death in 1975 Spain's Basque country now has more autonomy than any other region in Spain, including its own parliament, police force, education policies and ability to collect taxes, but hardline ETA members and supporters remain determined to fight for full independence.
In recent years there has been increasingly less backing for ETA. Although no-one can be sure of the numbers, in 2004 Spanish authorities estimated that there could be as few as 30 fully paid up members. Many see the 1997 kidnapping of a local Basque councilor as the turning point for their support. ETA demanded the release of over 400 prisoners in return for his release, the demands were not met and he was shot. Shocked by the violence, more than 6 million people across Spain took to the streets over 4-days demanding an end to ETA's violence.
The following year ETA called a ceasefire, which ended in 1999 when the government refused their demands for Basque independence.
The March 2005 bombings in Madrid were initially blamed on ETA but were later concluded to be the work of al Qaeda. After this it was believed that ETA had given up on trying to achieve its aims through violence. However, in December 2005 six people were injured in bombings claimed by ETA, at which time ETA declared a policy of non-lethal bombings (claiming responsibility for 21 bombings against buildings over the previous 2 months.
In February 2006, two leading ETA members died - Ricardo Sainz Olmos, 41, of a heart attack, and Igor Miguel Angulo Iturrate, 32, apparently a suicide by hanging. In March 2006 the political arm of ETA, Batasuna, convened a day of protest and ETA detonated some bombs near major roads but with no injuries. Later that month ETA declared a ceasefire, ending nearly 40 years of fighting which resulted in over 800 deaths (more than half civilians) - only time will tell if they will honor it this time.
'Before God was God and boulders were boulders, Basques were already Basques' - a Basque saying.
A map of the Basque region and background information.
This article was originally published in January 2006, and has been updated for the
September 2006 paperback release.
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