PNV and Sortu back new rally for ETA inmates after court bans march
Earlier in the day, the same tribunal approved the Bilbao demonstration
PNV says police operation against prisoners’ structure “feeds radicalism”
The presidents of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Sortu, Andoni Ortuzar and Hasier Arraiz, on Friday gave a landmark press conference in which they expressed the support of their parties for an alternative rally in favor of a policy shift toward ETA inmates on the part of the Spanish government. It was the first time that the ruling PNV and Sortu, the lead party of the radical Basque left abertzale grouping, have jointly supported a public act to pressure Madrid to soften its stance on terrorist inmates.
High Court Judge Eloy Velasco vetoed a march organized by the prisoners’ platform Tantaz Tanta in Bilbao on Saturday on the basis that he considers it to be the successor to Herrira, whose activities have been banned because of its suspected links to jailed terrorists. “Because of an existing judicial order that bars Herrira’s activities, there cannot be any type of demonstration that was planned by Herrira – an organization that is thought to be a terrorist group,” the judge ruled.
The moderate PNV had repudiated the Tantaz Tanta demonstration on the same grounds but came out in favor of a new rally, which has been registered and will take place at 6pm on Saturday in Bilbao, antiterrorist sources confirmed.
Early Friday, Judge Pablo Ruz had given the go ahead for the rally of ex-ETA prisoners to take place. In his 17-page writ, Ruz said, however, that there cannot be any type of statements or slogans that glorify terrorism and asked security forces to keep people in line.
Prosecutors went to the High Court after they learned that Herrira was allegedly one of the organizers of the rally.
The unprecedented alignment of the PNV and Sortu coincides with a week of controversy surrounding the activities of ETA inmates recently released from jail after the Spanish judiciary was forced by Brussels to revoke the Parot doctrine, a legal mechanism to keep terrorists and other dangerous prisoners in jail beyond the length of their original sentences.
The PNV on Thursday responded with “alarm and preoccupation” at the “timing and meaning” of a Civil Guard operation against ETA’s so-called “prisoners’ front.” Eight people were arrested in raids carried out on Wednesday, during which the offices of lawyer Arantza Zulueta, who is considered by security sources to represent ETA’s hardline faction, were searched.
In a press release, the PNV termed the operation “opportunistic, suspect and a political provocation.” The nationalists demanded the appearance of Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz in Congress to explain why details of the arrests were released before they had been made.
On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría attributed the blunder to a “human error,” and said the person responsible had resigned.
“Operations like this are not decided and organized overnight,” Santamaría said. “They require a thorough analysis on the part of security forces and a judicial procedure, as was the case.”
Basque regional government spokesman Josu Erkoreka decried the “coarse media orientation” of the investigation. “ETA terrorism has ended and there is an historic opportunity” to consolidate peace in the Basque Country, Erkoreka said, adding that such operations are “a step backward” in that aim.
EH Bildu, also part of the abertzale left, called on regional premier Iñigo Urkullu of the PNV to prevent the Basque Country’s Ertzaintza police force from cooperating with the Civil Guard in actions against ETA.
“Why were the same people who last Saturday appeared in Durango to accept the transition to the path of democracy arrested 72 hours before a rally in defense of the rights of ETA prisoners?” asked the PNV. “These actions display a lack of political intelligence and of understanding of the desire for peace and coexistence in Basque society, and feed the most radical sectors of one extreme and the other.”
The gathering of dozens of released ETA inmates in the Basque town of Durango a week ago followed a December 28 statement by still-incarcerated terrorists acknowledging the “multilateral” damage caused by their attacks during ETA’s four-decade long armed struggle for an independent Basque homeland. Fernández Díaz described the meeting, at which Zulueta was present, as a “witches’ sabbath.”
The freed ETA prisoners, many of whom were serving sentences ranging from hundreds to thousands of years for multiple murder convictions, was staged to support the decision of their jailed comrades to recognize Spanish judicial and penitentiary authority in order to apply for individual sentence-reducing benefits in line with the striking down of the Parot doctrine. Previously, ETA’s stance had been to order jailed members not to apply for sentence reductions because the organization did not recognize the legality of terrorism convictions.