The head of the provincial government in Spain’s northern Basque country has appeared in court, charged with holding illegal talks with a banned political group. Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the prime minister of the self governing region, had been in discussions with the militant Batasuna party and its leader Arnaldo Otegi.
The talks happened after ETA declared a cease-fire last April. Batasuna is considered by some to be the political wing of the terrorist group ETA. “You can’t criminalize dialogue,” said Ibarretxe. “I agree that a prime minister should not be above the law, but it’s wrong for me to be condemned for carrying out a social engagement with Basque society.”
The justice minister of the central government in Madrid did not agree. Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said: “I want to reassure people that they have the right to see their elected leaders fulfil their responsibilities. In a state of law the legal institutions should apply at all times.”
Earlier this week thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Bilbao against the prosecution of Ibarretxe. The Batasuna leaders have also been prosecuted.