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Basque independence party banned

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman


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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's Supreme Court has outlawed Batasuna, a pro-Basque independence party which authorities widely consider to be the political arm of the outlawed separatist group ETA, CNN partner station CNN+ reported.

The court voted 16-0 Monday to accept the government's argument that Batasuna could be outlawed under a law that went into effect last June, which permits the banning of parties that support terrorism.

Batasuna supports Basque independence but insists it is not linked to ETA. It is the only political party in Spain that refuses to condemn ETA's fatal attacks.

Batasuna got 140,000 votes, 10 percent of the total vote, in Basque regional elections in 2001.

ETA is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its 34-year fight for Basque independence, and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, of which Spain is a member.

The court ruling comes two months before May 25 municipal elections, when Batasuna would have presented dozens of candidates for Basque town councils.

Batasuna can appeal the Supreme Court ruling to Spain's top tribunal, the Constitutional Court, but the ban on Batasuna is due to take effect in the coming days even if there is an appeal.

In a separate crackdown on Batasuna, Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon last August issued a three-year injunction against Batasuna, citing evidence under Spain's penal code that the party actively supports ETA.

The injunction led to the closure last August of Batasuna offices in numerous towns, including the three main Basque cities, Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria.

Batasuna's leaders were not immediately arrested under the injunction but were unable to use the party banner or trappings. In addition, Batasuna was cut off from public funding for political parties.

Politically moderate Basque leaders have said that outlawing Batasuna will not lead to peace in the troubled Basque region.

The new Political Parties law went into effect on June 29 after it won broad support in parliament. The law did not mention Batasuna by name but allowed the government to ask the Supreme Court to outlaw parties that actively support terrorism or are apologists for it.

The law was first tested last August after a car bomb blamed on ETA killed two people in the Mediterranean resort of Santa Pola. Batasuna leaders failed to condemn the attack, and the government moved to determine if that silence was enough to prove support for terrorism.

Spanish officials said evidence shows that Batasuna helps finance and support ETA. Police say 400 Batasuna members have joined ETA over the years.


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