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Socialist elected as new president of Basque region

  • Story Highlights
  • Patxi Lopez wins votes in parliament to become first Socialist Basque president
  • Lopez vows to fight Basque separatist group ETA, focus on reviving Basque economy
  • Outgoing president warns that Lopez may seek to annul "Basque identity"
  • Historic election ends 29 years of pro-independence Basque nationalist rule
By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Socialist was elected for the first time as Basque regional president on Tuesday, ending decades of pro-independence Basque nationalist rule in northern Spain.

Socialist Patxi Lopez speaks to reporters after voting in March regional parliamentary elections.

Socialist Patxi Lopez speaks to reporters after voting in March regional parliamentary elections.

Socialist Patxi Lopez won enough votes in parliament to become Basque president, thanks to support from the conservative Popular Party. Their combined 38 votes, plus an additional vote from a smaller party, were enough to leave the moderate Basque Nationalist Party in opposition for the first time in 29 years.

Many Spanish politicians and Spanish media called it a historic day, and Lopez vowed to make the fight against the armed Basque separatist group ETA his top priority.

The outlawed ETA, which is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its fight for Basque independence, has already threatened Lopez, who travels with bodyguards, like numerous other Basque politicians who oppose ETA.

ETA has been weakened in the past year by a series of arrests in France and Spain of some of its alleged top commanders. There are about 600 ETA convicts or suspects in Spanish jails and 150 others in France, which is ETA's traditional rearguard base, authorities in both countries have told CNN.

The moderate Basque nationalists do not support ETA's violence, but they have increasingly pressed for more home rule, and even proposed a referendum among Basques on self-determination, which has not been held.

The results of the investiture vote on Tuesday had been expected for weeks, after the Basque branches of Spain's ruling Socialists and the main opposition conservatives won a combined 38 seats.

The outgoing Basque president, nationalist Juan Jose Ibarretxe, warned in the investiture debate that Lopez's government would be weak and that it would seek to annul "Basque identity."

Lopez countered that the region was better off with two official languages -- the ancient Basque Euskera, and Spanish -- but that this should not be a source of continuing division among Basques.

Spain's three northern provinces that comprise the Basque region, or "country," as many call it, already enjoy more home rule than other Spanish semi-autonomous regions.

The Basque region has a large police force involved in the fight against ETA, alongside Spanish and French police, and has control of tax collection, education and health care.

In addition to fighting ETA, Lopez said he would focus on reviving the Basque economy, suggesting that he might allow more government spending and more government debt to finance measures to boost the economy.

Lopez is expected to be sworn in to office on Thursday.

All About Basque CountryBasque Nationalist PartySpainFranceETA Separatist Group

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