At midnight on Thursday Spain welcomed in what it hopes will be a new era. From that moment an ETA ceasefire came into force, bringing to an end four decades of violence in pursuit of an independent Basque state. There have been similar declarations in the past but this time the group has used the word ‘permanent’.Analysts believe it is the fruit of six months of negotiations between ETA and Basque socialists. Negotiators who helped broker the IRA’s final ceasefire are also thought to have played a role. Spain’s socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodgriguez Zappatero, has said peace talks could begin this year if it can be proved that ETA has abandoned violence forever. Without going into detail he told parliament the government had the means to verify that the ceasefire is permanent. He said he believed this could be done before the summer. But many, including the opposition Popular Party, remain sceptical. Some of its politicians have been among ETA’s roughly 850 victims. Its local politicians in the Basque region have welcomed the ETA statement but want a further announcement from the group to the effect that it is disbanding. Spanish media are speculating ETA will make another historic declaration on April 16 when Basque separatists mark what they call ‘Basque Homeland day’.