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BASQUE POLITICS

Basque radical left leader released from prison after serving six years

Arnaldo Otegi was sent to jail for trying to reform the banned Batasuna party

Arnaldo Otegi is released from prison in Logroño. Lino Rico / Atlas

The leader of the Basque radical left, known as the abertzale, was released from jail on Tuesday after serving a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for trying to reconstruct the banned party Batasuna according to orders from separatist terrorist group ETA. Around 200 people turned out to greet Arnaldo Otegi as he emerged from a penitentiary in Logroño, among them his wife, son and father.

“All of these cameras,” he said, in reference to the large amount of press waiting for him, “attest to the fact that there are political prisoners in the Spanish state. There aren’t so many cameras for social prisoners.”

Otegi came out with his fist in the air, first hugging his son Hodei, and then other family members

Otegi was released from the jail just before 9am amid applause and shouts of “independence,” and “Basque prisoners back on the streets” from the assembled crowd.

Otegi came out with his fist in the air, first hugging his son Hodei, and then other family members. The crowd – which included members of Sortu, a legal abertzale party that rejects terrorist violence as a means to achieve independence for the Basque Country from Spain – escorted him to a platform where the former Batasuna spokesman made a speech to the assembled crowd.

Arnaldo Otegi has spent 2,331 days in prison after, according to a High Court ruling, trying to reform the banned Batasuna party on instructions from ETA. The Supreme Court later reduced his original sentence from 10 years to six-and-a-half. The top tribunal based this decision on the fact that Otegi was not acting as a party leader, but rather as a mere member.

Otegi has left the prison as the general secretary of Sortu, a position to which he was elected by  grass-roots members of the party despite his incarceration.

“Now we need to get the prisoners out of jail, and secure independence,” he told the crowd in reference to former members of the terrorist group ETA who are still locked up.

The Basque Country is due to hold regional elections toward the end of this year, and Otegi is likely to run as an ‘abertzale’ candidate

A High Court judge has ordered the authorities in the Basque Country to monitor his activities in case Otegi commits offenses of praising terrorism.

The Basque Country is due to hold regional elections toward the end of this year, and Otegi is  likely to seek to run as an abertzale candidate. The radical left is immersed in an internal debate as it attempts to tackle the rise of emerging anti-austerity group Podemos in the region. But Otegi’s possible election run could be halted in its tracks given that the High Court has banned him from any public position for a period of 10 years – until 2021.

“I went in [to prison] as an Euskaldun [Basque speaker], and I left as an Euskaldun. I went in as a socialist and I left as a socialist. I went in as a supporter of independence, and I’m leaving as a supporter of independence,” he said outside the prison on Tuesday, during what constituted his first political act after his release.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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