6 Sep 2010

Basque terror group 'calls ceasefire'

6:11 am on 6 September 2010

Armed Basque separatist group ETA, which is blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people in its quest for independence, is reported to have announced a ceasefire.

The BBC reports that, in a video it has obtained, the group says it took the decision several months ago "to put in motion a democratic process".

The Spanish government has previously said it will only negotiate with ETA if it renounces violence.

ETA's campaign for Basque independence has led to more than 820 deaths over the past 40 years.

It has called two ceasefires in the past, but abandoned them both.

The Basque country, or Euskadi, is split between four provinces in Spain and three in France. The bulk of the population is in Spain and that is where most of the attacks by the group have occurred.

ETA stands for Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, and first emerged in the 1960s as a student resistance movement bitterly opposed to General Franco's repressive military dictatorship.

Under Franco the Basque language, which bears no resemblance to Spanish or French, was banned, their distinctive culture suppressed, and intellectuals imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs.

The Basque country saw some of the fiercest resistance to Franco. His death in 1975 changed all that, and the transition to democracy brought the region of 2 million people home rule.

But despite the fact that Spain's Basque country today enjoys more autonomy than any other - it has its own parliament, police force, controls education and collects its own taxes - ETA and its supporters have remained determined to push for full independence.