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Thousands march for Basque independence in Spain

march July 27, 1997
Web posted at: 4:31 p.m. EDT (2031 GMT)

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (CNN) -- At least 20,000 people took to the streets in this northern city Sunday, shouting slogans in support of Basque independence and the militant separatist organization ETA.

The march was called by ETA's political wing Herri Batasuna, which is campaigning for Basque independence from Madrid.

Demonstrators waved Basque flags, carried portraits of ETA prisoners and chanted "Independence" and "Long live the ETA military."

Herri Batasuna again called for the transfer of some 500 ETA prisoners scattered across the country to prisons in Spain's northern Basque region, which is made up of three provinces.

A previous refusal of that demand led to the abduction and shooting of ruling party official Miguel Angel Blanco on July 10. ETA fatally shot the 29-year-old Blanco after the government refused to follow a 48 hour ultimatum to transfer the ETA prisoners.


That killing shocked Spain and led to massive anti-ETA demonstrations, with millions of people taking to the streets to condemn ETA and its political wing Herri Batasuna.

In Sunday's protest, Herri Batasuna's spokesman Floren Aoiz accused the Spanish government and the media of conspiring to undermine the separatist movement and said that this was tantamount to "throwing gasoline on the fire."

Herri Batasuna leaders also condemned a campaign by mainstream politicians to isolate the separatist party and curb its role in regional government.

Madrid has repeatedly refused to negotiate, saying ETA must first renounce violence.

Several hours after the protest march passed peacefully, about 30 hooded attackers firebombed barricades and clashed with police in San Sebastian.

Uniformed Basque police, who had kept a low profile during the march earlier in the day, were deployed onto the streets and fired rubber bullets in the air to ward off the attackers, witnesses said.

Reporter Al Goodman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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