Basque leader says Eta terror deaths ‘should never have happened’

A leading leftwing Basque nationalist politician and former Eta member has said the violence the terrorist group used in its quest for independence “should never have happened” and it ought to have laid down its arms far earlier than it did.

Speaking as Spain approaches the 10th anniversary of Eta’s decision to abandon the armed campaign, Arnaldo Otegi, the general coordinator of the Basque coalition party EH Bildu, said the pro-independence Basque left would never forget the victims of terrorist violence.

“Today we want to make specific mention of the victims of Eta’s violence,” said Otegi. “We want to express to them our sorrow and pain for the suffering they endured. We feel their pain, and that sincere feeling leads us to affirm that it should never have happened, that no one could be satisfied with what happened, and that it should not have lasted as long as it did. We should have managed to reach [the abandonment of the armed campaign] sooner.”

Otegi, who joined Eta as a teenager and was later imprisoned for kidnapping, is credited with playing a pivotal role in persuading the group to renounce violence and seek independence by peaceful, political means. To many in Spain, however, he remains a potent reminder of the bloodshed that marked Eta’s five-decade campaign for a Basque state, during which more than 800 people were killed.

Otegi acknowledged that no words “could undo the damage that was done”, but added: “We want to tell you from out hearts that we deeply regret your suffering and we are committed to trying to mitigate it as much as we can.”

His statement went further than an official apology issued by Eta three years ago as the group prepared to dissolve itself. In it Eta apologised to those who had been killed or wounded by the group during what it termed “the conflict”. The group also recognised Eta’s “mistakes or mistaken decisions” had led to the deaths of people who had nothing to do with the conflict, in the Basque country and beyond.

Otegi’s words were dismissed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT). “The victims of terrorism have nothing to celebrate on 20 October,” it said. “The end of Eta’s violence was thanks to the work of the state security forces, which defeated it with police work.”

The AVT said if Otegi was serious about helping victims, he could insist that former Eta members share what they knew about more than 300 unsolved crimes. Its words were echoed by Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s biggest opposition party, the conservative People’s party. Casado urged the country’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, to reject the parliamentary support of separatist parties such as Bildu.

“Otegi isn’t a man of peace, he’s a terrorist,” Casado tweeted.

Ione Belarra, the leader of the leftwing, anti-austerity Podemos party – the junior partner in Sánchez’s minority coalition government – welcomed Otegi’s words.

“Ten years ago, Eta ended its activities,” she tweeted. “Today, the Basque nationalist left has taken the unprecedented step of focusing on the pain of Eta’s victims and recognising that it should never have happened, and that peaceful ways are the only possible path. That step needs to be recognised by democrats.”

Between 1968 and 2010, Eta murdered 829 people in bombings and shootings, almost half of them civilians. It also targeted state security forces and in 1973 assassinated the Spanish prime minister, Luis Carrero Blanco with a bomb so powerful his car was blown 20 metres into the air.

But the atrocities it committed against civilians eventually turned the tide. The bombing of a Barcelona supermarket in 1987, in which 21 people were killed, provoked revulsion, while the murder of a young local politician, Miguel Ángel Blanco, a decade later brought 6 million people on to the streets of Spain in protest.

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