The Basque terrorist group ETA, which over 43 years has been responsible for 829 killings in Spain and France, announced on Thursday that it has decided to put an end to its violent struggle and called on the governments of both countries to initiate a dialogue that would lead to a peaceful political solution for a Basque independent state.
In a video statement published online by the pro-independence newspapers Gara and Berria, ETA said that it has taken "a clear, firm and definite commitment" to "end the armed confrontation."
The move comes just four days after an international panel led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which met in San Sebastián, issued a recommendation calling for ETA to give up its armed struggle and for the Spanish government to discuss the possibility of moving the estimated 700 ETA prisoners closer to their families in the Basque Country. Mediators also want ETA to agree to a verifiable ceasefire.
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Leaders of the outlawed Batasuna party, ETA's political wing, along with radical abertzale left members, also joined the call on Tuesday for ETA to lay down its arms.
Addressing the nation, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero welcomed the announcement, but said that the victims and violence can never be forgotten.
"Ours will be a democracy without terrorism but never without memory," Zapatero said.
The ceasefire announcement is seen as a victory for Zapatero's outgoing Socialist government, which failed at behind-the-scenes negotiations with ETA after it called a ceasefire in 2006.
Zapatero broke off the talks when ETA set off a bomb in the parking lot at Madrid's Barajas Airport in December 2006, killing two Ecuadorian nationals.
Since then, ETA has been dealt a series of blows by the governments of Spain and France. Four of the group's military leaders were arrested in a succession of busts between 2008 and 2009.
Popular Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy called the announcement "good news" because it signifies that violence has disappeared from the lives of Spaniards. "It shows how a society knows how to remain united and defend its position because this announcement was made without any concessions," Rajoy said.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the Socialist prime ministerial candidate and former interior minister, who is widely credited with helping deal a series of blows to ETA, said that law enforcement and the judiciary should be congratulated.
Visibly moved, Rubalcaba also said that the victims of ETA terrorism would always be remembered, adding that those who died or suffered during his tenure as minister were especially important to him.
"It is a day to celebrate democracy's great victory," he said, calling on all the parties to unite and work together for peace in the Basque Country.
He also gave thanks to French President Nicolas Sarkozy for cooperating in the fight against terrorism.
Despite Rajoy's position, the initial PP reaction was not as positive. Ignacio Cosidó, the PP spokesman for interior affairs, said that the ETA announcement "wasn't worth anything" because the Basque terrorists have not said whether they will turn in their weapons.
Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre, also of the PP, said that ETA must be reminded that "there is no statute of limitations to murder just because ETA says it won't kill any more."
Alberto Belloch, who served as justice minister in Prime Minister Felipe González's government, said he believed that there only remain "technical conversations" between ETA members concerning how to turn in their weapons before members officially disband.
ETA reportedly had been waiting for the right moment to announce its definite ceasefire. For weeks, many of the inmates held in jails throughout Spain had been waiting anxiously for the announcement, as was evident from a series of recordings by law enforcement officers of conversations they held among themselves.
Arnaldo Otegi, the longtime leader of ETA's political wing Batasuna, who was last month sentenced to 10 years after he was convicted of belonging to the terrorist group's leadership, had called on ETA to disband and asked abertzale members to continue on their path to seeking a democratic solution to Basque independence.
In the Basque Country, Basque National Party leader Iñigo Urkullu said that the ETA ceasefire announcement was "the only news that we had been waiting for."
"At last we are going to be able to turn the page and wake up each morning without being frightened," he told reporters. Referring to the victims, he said: "The Basque Country has crushed violence. The Basque Country doesn't owe anything to ETA."
Basque regional premier Patxi López, who was in New York, said in a statement that ETA "acknowledged its defeat because it met its end without obtaining any of its objectives."