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EFE News Service

Basque Regional Government Presents Self-Determination Plan

September 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 EFE News Service. All rights reserved. 

Vitoria, Spain, Sep 26 (EFE) - The head of the Basque regional government presented on Friday the outline of his moderate party's plan for self-determination as a "free state" associated with Spain, a project he wants subjected to a referendum in 2005.

Madrid immediately called the project "clearly secessionist" and rejected it out of hand.

According to Juan Jose Ibarretxe, president of the autonomous Basque region, the proposal "will contribute to the expulsion of ETA from our lives," a reference to the armed Basque separatist group blamed for nearly 1,000 deaths.

Though Ibarretxe formally presented the plan to the regional parliament on Friday, he first announced the initiative a year ago, only to see it labeled inviable by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

"This political proposal opens the post-ETA era," Ibarretxe told the Basque legislature here, adding that the armed militants "know that moving forward in the process of political normalization implies their definitive end."

The leader unequivocally condemned separatist terrorism. "ETA continues to violate the most fundamental of human rights - the right to life - and that provokes the rejection of an immense majority in society, who demand its (ETA's) definitive disappearance."

Since 1968, ETA has killed more than 850 people in its armed struggle to create an independent Basque state from parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

After explaining the steps needed to implement the "Free Associated Community of the Basque Country," which would have its own legislative, executive and judicial power, the "lehendakari" - "chief" in the Basque language - proposed negotiations with the Spanish government on a new statute of autonomy.

He said that those negotiations, whether or not they result in an accord, should conclude with a referendum among the Basque people in 2005.

A Spanish government spokesman, Eduardo Zaplana, responded to the Basque leader's plan Friday by expressing Madrid's "most categorical opposition."

The plan is "clearly secessionist" and its implementation would result in "something juridically impossible both in Spain and in Europe," he said.

Also weighing in was the Basque Country representative for Spain's governing Popular Parry, Carlos Iturgaiz, who accused Ibarretxe of having staged "an attempted coup to break with Spain."

Jose Blanco, spokesman for Spain's largest opposition party, the Socialist PSOE, said he was convinced the initiative "would not go through."

The text of Ibarretxe's proposal will be presented Oct. 25, when the Basque government plans to submit a bill to reform the current statute of autonomy, the judicial and political framework that has governed the region for 24 years.

The Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV, has run the regional government for the past 20 years and has never hidden its aim of independence in the long term.

The plan calls for a Basque state that would be "freely associated" with Spain and "associated" with the European Union. It was not clear precisely how sovereignty would be exercised, or how it might be shared between the eventual Basque entity and Madrid.

The only existing model of a state that is "freely associated" with another is Puerto Rico and the United States.

The PNV contends that opinion polls show 80 percent of Basques "want to decide their own future."

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