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As Spain Commemorates Constitution, Ibarretxe And Pujol Bring Self-Rule Plans To The Political Fore

By A. E.

September 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 EL PAIS, SL/IHT. All rights reserved. 

In a surprise gesture Basque regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe attended a reception at the Royal Palace in Madrid Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Spanish Constitution, a document which, his critics say, Ibarretxe is seeking to change with his drive for greater Basque independence.

But far from pushing the more nationalist leanings of his self-rule plan, a spokesperson for the Basque government indicated that Ibarretxe's appearance at the reception reflects his "search for a framework of co-existence and respect" with the central government in Madrid. A mark of that supposed "sign of normality in institutional relations" could be interpreted by his relaxed, albeit brief, meeting with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar - their first public encounter in two years.

"This gesture shows that the Basque government's proposal does not require rupturing," a Basque government spokesperson said after the reception with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia yesterday. Nonetheless, the Spanish government, along with the opposition Socialist party, have both vehemently denounced Ibarretxe's project to make the Basque Country a "state freely associated with Spain" along the lines of Quebec's status in Canada or that of Puerto Rico in the United States.

While Ibarretxe's appearance was touted as an attempt to put a face of "normality" on his otherwise turbulent relationship with Madrid, the attendance of Catalan leader Jordi Pujol, whose nationalist party is also pressing for greater regional self rule, was cited as an "obligation" by his political aides. "Pujol attended because it is his institutional obligation to do so," said Artur Mas, the next leader of Catalonia's governing CiU coalition and candidate for regional premier in elections there later this year.

"There is certainly no enthusiasm in attending an act to commemorate a Constitution... that is being interpreted restrictively and against the interests of Catalonia." Indeed, Pujol, in a speech later yesterday, railed the government's "vision of Spain" as one that excludes "the vision of Catalonia."

"We cannot allow [the Constitution] to become a cage, whose bars are becoming increasingly restrictive," Pujol declared.

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