Outlawed ETA group forms new party, rejects violence

Batasuna has been ruled illegal since 2003 because of its links to ETA, whose bloody battle for a Basque homeland independent of Spain has been blamed for 829 deaths in more than four decades.

The outlawed party has previously said it opposes violence without actually condemning ETA's violent past.The new party, which aims to contest local elections in May, "rejects and opposes the use of violence... including that of ETA," announced Basque nationalist Rufi Etxeberria, an historic leader of Batasuna.

"It is therefore an explicit rejection of violence," Etxeberria said in Bilbao. "This is a direct consequence of our commitment to exclusively political and democratic routes."
The new principles were enshrined in the new statutes of the party, the Batasuna leader added in his televised appearance.

"These new statutes are in order to reclaim our legal status," he said. "There is no going back."Batasuna plans to present the new statutes to Spain's Interior Ministry on Wednesday.

Spain's government has shown deep scepticism about Batasuna's conversion; it demands that Batasuna convince ETA to disarm permanently and unconditionally or that it break with ETA completely.

If the ministry refuses to accept the party's new statutes, as seems likely, the courts would have to decide. ETA on January 10 declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" to be verified by the international community.

But this, too, was received with scepticism in much of Spain, largely because the statement made no mention of disarming, and it contained political demands that assumed a negotiating role for ETA.

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been extremely prudent in its dealings with ETA, scarred by the memories of its attempt to negotiate with the group five years ago.

ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

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