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Basque clashes after party ban

BILBAO, Spain -- Spanish police used smoke bombs, batons and rubber bullets to break through human barricades to seize the offices of the Basque separatist party Batasuna.

The raid by the regional Ertzaintza police was the first confrontation between Basques and Basque police since Batasuna was banned on Monday for its alleged links to the armed group ETA.

Spain's chief prosecutor Judge Baltasar Garzon pressed for the three-year ban, accusing Batasuna of complicity in ETA's 30-year campaign of violence. The party also faces a permanent ban by the Supreme Court.

Reporters in Bilbao saw about 50 Basque riot police break through a human barricade in front of party headquarters by swinging batons, firing rubber bullets and setting off smoke bombs.

About 300 Batasuna supporters fought back in the pouring rain before police breached their line.

EXTRA INFORMATION
Basque conflict: Violence in Spain 
 
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Map: Separatist instincts 
 

In Vitoria, site of the Basque regional parliament, a small number of protesters put up less resistance before police were able to occupy the site.

The Ertzaintza takes orders from the semi-autonomous Basque government, which is controlled by the Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV. The party voted against criminalising Batasuna and is accused by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of being soft on ETA.

Spanish National Police earlier closed eight Batasuna offices in the neighbouring province of Navarre, based on Garzon's order.

As police began closing down Batasuna's offices, a bomb was discovered in the northern Basque city of Tolosa. A controlled explosion of the 22-pound device was carried out and there were no injuries.

When police stormed the party office in Pamplona, Batasuna party leaders came out with their fists held high in the air. There was a lot of shouting but no arrests or injuries.

Batasuna denies it is the political wing for ETA and has called on members to resist the crackdown and continue "working for sovereignty and independence."

Spanish authorities delivered a double blow to Batasuna on Monday.

First, Garzon, Spain's best-known prosecutor, issued his 375-page injunction accusing the party of aiding ETA's "crimes against humanity," including the killing of 836 people in 3,391 attacks during the armed group's 34-year struggle for an independent Basque region.

Under the ruling, Batasuna's leaders will not be arrested -- at least for now -- but will not be able to use the party banner or trappings. In addition, it will no longer receive public funding like all other political parties.

Hours later, the lower house of the Spanish parliament voted by 295 to 10, with 29 abstentions, to ask the government to implement a new law that allows a petition to the Supreme Court to permanently ban Batasuna.

Aznar's council of ministers is expected to begin writing a request to the Supreme Court on Friday. If the justices endorse it, Batasuna would be the first political party to be outlawed since the 1939-75 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Despite Batasuna holding 10 percent of the regional vote, it came in for national criticism for not condemning the killing of a 6-year-old girl in an ETA bomb attack August 4 that also killed a 57-year-old man.

ETA is listed a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, of which Spain is a member.



 
 
 
 


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