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EFE News Service
Spain's Socialists Balk At Plan To Criminalize Basque Referendum
November 29, 2003
Madrid, Nov 29 (EFE) - Spain's Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), the country's largest opposition bloc, announced Saturday it will not support a government bill to criminalize the Basque government's plans to hold a referendum on regional near-independence.
The president, or lehendakari, of the Basque Autonomous Region, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, is calling a referendum on changing the area's status to that of an "associated free state" of Spain, as Puerto Rico is of the United States.
PSOE Secretary General Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Ibarretxe's "illegal plan" should not be fought with "caricaturesque legalities."
Rodriguez Zapatero accused the Spanish government of acting "irresponsibly, hastily and disloyally" and complained that the bill was drafted "with no previous notice, no previous discussion and no consultation" with the PSOE.
On Friday, Spain's Council of Ministers proposed legislation making it a crime for a public authority to usurp powers the constitution does not grant, by illegally calling for elections or a referendum.
The governing Popular Party (PP) plans to introduce the proposals in Parliament.
The Spanish government also wants to bar local and regional governments from assigning funds to parties or groups linked to terrorism, like Batasuna, the political wing of ETA, the violent organization that has killed hundreds of people in its drive to set up an independent Basque state.
The Spanish government has also filed suit with the Constitutional Court challenging Ibarretxe's plan and asking the court to bar all initiatives undertaken by Basque institutions in connection with the plan.
On Oct. 25, the executive branch of the Basque regional government endorsed a referendum affirming the right of the Basque people "to create a new political agreement based on free association" with Spain and the recognition of a Basque nationality.
The current statutes, in effect for 24 years, grant the region broad autonomy, including its own executive branch, legislature and police, as well as the right to collect and administer taxes and manage health and education programs.