Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....The Judges Have Their Say

A peace process in the Basque Country that was already moving very slowly faces a new obstacle today. The ETA prisoner Iñaki de Juana Chaos, whose hunger strike I wrote about recently, was yesterday sentenced to just under 13 years imprisonment for alleged terrorist threats he made in newspaper article. The sentence is the heaviest ever to be handed down for this offence, and even the judges had to accept that the alleged threats were veiled ones. The decision is very questionable, there is no clear threat to anyone in the articles that were published, and the whole case is more a result of political and media pressure to prevent De Juana from being released after having completed his previous sentence. As a consequence De Juana has now announced another hunger strike, and this can be expected to mobilise support amongst ETA sympathisers.

Combine this judicial decision with the political consequences of the arms theft in France attributed to ETA, and it's hard to see how things can move forward in the next few weeks. There was speculation over the arms theft about whether it was an indication of ETA returning to armed activity, there are no signs of this being the case. However, the government has said there will be no movement until they are completely satisfied that ETA has taken an irreversible decision to turn their back on the use of violence.

Not surprisingly, the opposition Partido Popular (PP) siezed on what they saw as an opportunity to put pressure on the government over the arms theft, and called for the whole process to be halted. So the government is in a difficult position to make any kind of concession, although the PP pressure also gives them a pretext for not making any significant moves. They seem to be opting for letting the issue cool down a bit politically before making any further moves; the problem now is that an ETA prisoner on hunger strike will make that strategy more difficult as it will raise political tension in the Basque Country.

The main enemy - for the AVT

Equally keen to raise the tension is the inappropriately named Association for the Victims of Terrorism (AVT), which has decided to call yet another of their demonstrations against the supposed surrender to ETA that Zapatero is accused of having agreed to. This demonstration will be in Madrid in 2 weeks time; as a nice touch in the run up to this event the AVT has included an image of Zapatero amongst a collection of photos of convicted ETA members, compiled under the heading of "The Faces of Terror". It will be interesting to see how many people they can mobilise on this demonstration, the most recent ones have not proven to be tremendously successful, despite having the PP put their weight behind them.

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