The illegal Basque party Batasuna has called for a general strike in Spain’s Basque region on Thursday. It is a response to a ban on marches protesting against the conditions of detention for Basque prisoners.Some 700 people found guilty of belonging to terrorist organisation ETA are held in jails around the country and the deaths of two of them last week led to angry scenes and near-riots this weekend. The rising tension over the Basque question has also sparked some fierce exchanges between the opposition Popular party and the Socialist government on a weekend when both are holding big meetings. In Madrid, the PP closed its three-day convention on Sunday by calling Prime Minister Zapatero’s administration “weak, unstable, and incompetent” and “prepared to pay a political price to ETA in return for an end to violence.” Leader Mariano Rajoy added that it was an error to offer wider autonomy to Catalonia. “We are lucky to have a prime minister who hides his intentions in a well of shadows,” he said. “He refuses to make commitments to avoid having his hands tied and is completely dependant on his allies.” The irony was noted at the Socialists’ meeting in Valladolid where José LuisRodriguez Zapatero said that although he was accused of having no programme, the PP’s proposed reforms had not emerged at the congress. “They have organised a convention without speaking about our citizens, concentrating instead on us, and above all, me,” he hit back. “I don’t deserve such attention and the people don’t deserve to be so ignored.” The Zapatero government insists ETA must abandon violence before talks can begin and denies the PP’s claim that it is already in secret negotiations.