Spain: Basque candidates face charges ahead of elections

The head of the Basque government and his chief opponent went on trial Jan. 8 over alleged past contacts with Batasuna, banned political wing of the armed separatist group ETA—just weeks before they are to face off in regional elections. Juan José Ibarretxe of the region’s ruling Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and Patxi Lopez, regional leader of Spain’s ruling Socialist Party, face possible prison terms and bans on political activity if found guilty. (AFP, Jan. 10)

ETA, under pressure after the arrests of its top leaders in 2008, ended the year by bombing the headquarters of the regional broadcasting network, Basque Radio and Television (EiTB). There were no casualties as police had evacuated the area minutes before the blast after a person claiming to represent ETA called the local fire service warning of an imminent explosion at the site in Bilbao. The building and several vehicles were damaged in the blast.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero condemned the bombing, saying “ETA can stage attacks, but it will lose all the battles.” ETA is blamed for the deaths of four people in 2008, including a municipal councilor killed two days before general elections in March. But it was hard hit by police operations in both Spain and France. The group’s presumed overall leader, Javier López Peña, was arrested in the French city of Bordeaux in May in an operation Spanish officials at the time boasted had “”decapitated”” the organization. In November, French police arrested Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, AKA “Txeroki”, suspected of being the head of ETA’s military operations. And on December 8, Txeroki’s suspected successor, Aitzol Iriondo Yarza, was also detained in southern France. France and Spain have stepped up cooperation to crack down on ETA since a special accord was signed allowing Spanish agents to operate in southwestern France. (AFP, Jan. 3)

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