Top ETA political leader arrested in French raid: Spain

May 22, 2008 - 0:0

MADRID (AFP) -- The suspected top political leader of the Basque separatist group ETA was arrested Tuesday in southwestern France in a joint operation by French and Spanish police, Spanish anti-terrorism sources said.

Javier Lopez Pena, alias ""Thierry"", who is considered by Spanish authorities be the top political leader of ETA, was among the four people detained in the raid in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
The organization is blamed for the deaths of over 820 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque nation.
The other three arrested in the operation against ETA's political leadership were named as Ainhoa Zaeta Mendiondo, Igor Suberbiola and Jon Salaberria.
On the run since 1983, the Spanish interior ministry considers ""Thierry"" to be one of those behind the December 2006 car bomb attack on a car park at Madrid's airport that killed two people and ended a ceasefire declared by the organization.
According to Spanish media he participated in the failed 2006 peace talks between the Spanish government and ETA, and was one of those who pushed for ending the ceasefire.
Ainhoa Ozaeta is believed to be the masked woman who read the statement in a June 2007 ETA video officially announcing an end to the ceasefire.
Salaberria, a former regional lawmaker for ETA's now-banned political wing Batasuna, has been on the run since Spanish authorities for financing the Basque separatist movement.
The arrests follow two ETA car bomb attacks in less than one week.
Last Wednesday a blast outside a civil guard barracks in the Basque village of Legutiano killed one guard.
On Monday, a blast damaged a yacht club in Getxo, an affluent suburb of the Basque economic capital Bilbao.
The car bomb attack came on the eve of a Tuesday meeting between Basque premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in which the Spanish leader once again rejected a Basque government sovereignty plan.
Ibarretxe is expected to defend his ""road map"" for new political relations for the region with the rest of Spain, similar to the one he unveiled last year during a previous meeting with Zapatero.
The plan includes referendums on self-determination, a historical ETA demand.
Zapatero has already said any regional referendum would be unconstitutional but he has said he is open to the idea of more autonomy for the Basque Country, which already enjoys a high level of self-government.
In its latest statement issued on May 9, ETA accused Zapatero's Socialists and Ibarretxe's Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which runs the regional government, of seeking to impose a new autonomy accord on the Basque region.
""We will never accept an imposed situation,"" it said.