Thousands march in Spain's Basque region for independence

August 11, 2008

MADRID (AFP) -- Thousands of people marched through the streets of the seaside city of San Sebastian in Spain's northeastern Basque Country on Saturday to demand self-determination for the wealthy region.

""Stop the state of emergency. Self-determination for Euskal Herria,"" read a banner carried by participants at the head of the peaceful march, using the Basque language name for the Basque Country.
Dozens of people waved the red, white and green Basque flag while others chanted slogans in favor of independence for the region as a police helicopter flew overhead, Spanish media reported.
Police offered no estimate for the number of participants but the Basque newspaper Gara said in its online edition that some 5,000 people had taken part in the demonstration which was organized by left-wing Basque nationalists.
The Basque Country already enjoys considerable autonomy and polls show most Basques do not want to secede from Spain.
But a vocal minority is pushing for an independent Basque homeland.
The armed Basque separatist group ETA is blamed for the deaths of over 820 people in bombings and shootings in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.
A victims' association in Spain said Tuesday it has filed a complaint against one of the most notorious members of the Basque separatist group ETA, recently released from jail, accusing him of glorifying terrorism.
Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos was freed from a Spanish prison on Saturday after serving 21 years for the murders of 25 people in a string of 11 attacks in the name of the armed Basque group.
Hours after his release, a letter written by De Juana Chaos was read out at a gathering of his supporters in Spain's northern Basque Country.
The letter, which was greeted with cries of ""Long Live ETA!"", paid homage to ""Txomin"", the head of ETA in the 1980s, when De Juana Chaos himself was an active member.
The Association for the Victims of Terrorism (AVT) said the gathering and the letter constitute ""an apology for terrorism.""
The letter showed that he ""lacked any remorse for the killings of 25 people,"" the AVT said.
A judge in Madrid has already ordered police to verify the contents of his letter and to identify the organizers of the gathering with a view to filing a possible charge of glorifying terrorism, which carries a prison term of one to two years.
The most deadly of the attacks for which De Juana Chaos was convicted was a car-bombing in Madrid in 1986 which killed 12 members of the Civil Guard police force. He has never expressed remorse for his crimes.
His release from jail sparked outrage from victims' groups, who staged demonstrations in Madrid and the Basque city of San Sebastian.