Arrest after ETA attack “slams door on peace”

On the morning of May 26, a car bomb exploded in Madrid, causing proprty destruction and leaving 50 with mostly minor injuries. Phone calls to media outlets immediately before the explosion warned that it was coming and claimed responsibility in the name of ETA, the armed Basque separatist organization. (Berria, Bilbao, May 26)

Hours later, Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the outlawed Basque separatist party Batasuna and a former member of the Basque regional parliament, was arrested. He is being held in solitary confinement after being charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and of forming part of the leadership of ETA.

In the past two weeks, ETA has carried out smaller bomb attacks against businesses in the Basque country, in an apparent response to the government’s offer of peace talks. Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero won the backing of parliament this month to begin negotiations with ETA, if the group agreed to renounce violence. At the same time, he vowed there would be no let-up in counter-terrorist operations. Earlier this week, three suspected ETA members were detained in France.

Otegi lost immunity from prosecution this month when he ceased to be a member of the Basque regional parliament. Batasuna, ETA’s political wing, was outlawed in 2002 and was barred from fielding candidates in regional elections in April.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the Spanish justice minister, described Otegi’s arrest as “one more necessary step to defeat ETA.” But in Bilbao, Joseba Permach, a Batasuna spokesman, said the arrest had “slammed the door on the hopes for peace for the Basque people.” (FT, May 27)

See our last blog post on the Basque situation, and WW4 REPORT #88