Thursday, September 25, 2008


Police in southern France have arrested at least 15 people with links to Basque separatist groups in the past couple of days. Some of those detained are said to be members of Batasuna, the alleged political wing of the armed group ETA, and from another group that supports separatist prisoners. Police say they are investigating the illegal funding of ETA and a terrorist attack in 2006.

ETA and Batasuna have been outlawed in Spain, but Batasuna is still legally allowed to operate in France. Both groups want independence for the Basque region, which lies in northern Spain and southern France (see map above).

The arrests were carried out Tuesday and early Wednesday in towns across France's southwestern Basque region and included two senior figures of the separatist political party Batasuna.

The blog Leherensuge reports a search of the offices of the Basque party in Baiona lasted all day long while surrounding streets were closed to the public.

The Askatasuna support group for Basque prisoners (itself a target of the raid) said in a statement that French police were using the Bidarry hotel attack -- which caused no injuries and only minor damage to the building -- as an excuse to crack down on Basque separatists.

The arrests come as a bilateral meeting between the French and Spanish interior ministers is planned to take place in Toulon later today.

Among the detained are Batasuna party spokesman, Xabi Larralde, foreign affairs spokesman, Giuliano Cavaterra and national council members, Jean Claude Aguerre and Aurore Martín whose bank accounts have already been frozen as part of an inquiry into the funding of the Basque communist party initiated last May by Spanish High Court anti-terror judge, Baltasar Garzón.

Also arrested today was Jean François Lefort, alias 'Lof', a former spokesman for the Askatasuna association that defends the rights of jailed ETA activists.

Batasuna denounced the operation saying it in effect makes the groups illegal.

The French Green Party also protested the police operation and said that it is an attack against freedom of political activity, and warned Paris that violence only brings more violence.

Yesterday evening there was a protest demonstration of several hundred people in the city of Baiona in the French Basque region. Banners reading "Repression is not the way!" and "Batasuna resist!" were visible in many parts of the city, both in the streets and at private homes.

Other protests happened all through the Northern Basque Country.

Meanwhile, M and C reports the National Court in Spain has ordered that a search be carried out to find the whereabouts of José Ignacio De Juana Chaos, the long-time ETA activist who was released from prison in August this year having served his sentence for 25 killings.

It comes amid reports from police sources that De Juana and his wife, Irati Aranzabal, are now living in Belfast, under the protection of "IRA sympathisers."

The following is from EITB (Spain).

Arrests of the 14 detained in Northern Basque Country extended
Seven of them are at the police station of Pau, while the other half are being questioned in Bayonne. On the other hand, French police has resumed search at the offices of the banned leftist party Batasuna in Bayonne.

The arrest of the 14 members of the so called “leftist movement” detained on Wednesday in Northern Basque Country has been extended. Those arrested will spend this night at the police stations of Pau and Bayonne respectively, France Press agency reported, citing police sources.

Meanwhile, police continue searching the offices of the banned Basque leftist party Batasuna in the city of Bayonne, together with Xabi Larralde, Batasuna’s spokesman in Northern Basque Country.

Questionings to the 14 members of the Basque leftist movement arrested yesterday are expected to begin today.

The police operation coincided with the meeting of the Spanish and French Interior Ministers, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba and Michelle Alliot-Marie. French Interior Minister said this may be the first step of the banning of Batasuna in France, although she underlined this is in the hands of Justice.

On the other hand, about a thousand protesters demonstrated on Wednesday against the arrests in several towns of Northern Basque Country.

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