Following speculation that ETA could be close to a ceasefire, Spain’s prime minister says he will pursue even the smallest chance at negotiations. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has always stressed that a truce by the armed Basque separatist group is a pre-condition to any dialogue.
“During my electoral campaign I said one of my priorities would be to put an end to ETA and I stick to that,” he said in a television interview, adding that if there was the slightest possibility of stopping the violence, his administration, like previous governments, would strive for it to bear fruit.
But he warned against over-optimism, saying that he was working on the basis of hope. Zapatero is particularly sensitive to accusations of being soft on terrorism. Elected just days after deadly al Qaeda-linked train bombings in Madrid, he later withdrew Spain’s troops from Iraq.
ETA has been waging an armed campaign for Basque independence for more than three decades. It has been blamed for over 800 deaths. A car bomb on Tuesday in a seaside town near Bilbao came after a telephone tip-off from someone claiming to represent the group. A police officer was injured. The blast could be a sign of an internal power struggle between those determined to pursue violence and others now ready to lay down their arms.
Just days ago ETA said it was ready to embark on a dialogue with the government. Talk of a truce comes as the Spanish parliament agreed to debate controversial political proposals to give the Basque region more independence.