Two days after ETA declared an end to its armed struggle, tens of thousands of people rallied in the Spanish city of Bilbao demanding a political solution for the Basque country.
The march, organised by unions and left-wing nationalist groups, was planned before the announcement by the militants.
This was a general appeal to society and not just to political leaders, reflecting a long-standing desire for greater regional autonomy.
“I want what the Basque people are demanding, peace and the freedom to decide by ourselves as Basques. Nothing more,” said one woman at the rally.
“We want to bring Basque prisoners back home so we can take a new path,” a man said.
An estimated 700 Basque prisoners are held in Spanish and French jails. Many demonstrators sympathised with ETA’s demand, repeated last week, for them to be brought closer to home and their families.
At the rally, euronews correspondent Javier Villagarcia said: “The new strategy of the leftist nationalists, against violence and in favour of political methods, has been endorsed by its followers as we can see from this huge demonstration. A strong message that the political mainstream, now free of ETA threats, should take into account.”
At a Socialist party election rally in San Sebastian, the head of the Basque regional government, Patxi Lopez, insisted there should be no reward for ETA. “We don’t owe anything to ETA or their followers,” he said.
The violence that killed more than 800 people over four decades may be over. But the regional tensions, sense of identity and claims for greater autonomy in the Basque country remain as strong as ever.
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