Illegal organization of militant Basque separatists, founded in 1959, and committed to the independence of the Basque Country from Spain. Its main strategy has been based on violence, with more than 800 deaths attributed to the group over the period 1968–2000. It had links with the former political party Herri Batasuna (HB), and its French counterpart is Iparretarrak (‘ETA fighters from the North Side’).
Basque claims for autonomy seek to protect its distinctive culture, in particular its unique language, Euskera. A separate republic, Euskadi, existed briefly in 1936–37, during the Spanish Civil War. As Euskadi supported the Republican Spanish government, its capital Guernica was virtually destroyed by German and Italian bombers supporting General Franco.
Since the beginning of the violence in 1968, thousands of ETA supporters have been killed or jailed. Only two ceasefires have been declared, the first in 1989 (which was unofficial) and the second in 1998. After talks in May 1999 between ETA and the Spanish government held in Zurich, Switzerland, failed to produce agreement, the ceasefire was ended in November and January 2000 saw violence resume.
Key events In 1980, during which year ETA killed 118 people, the Basque region was promised greater autonomy and a Basque parliament, which was set up in 1983. Between 1983 and 1986, members of ETA were targeted by the anti-terrorist paramilitary group GAL, which had allegedly been set up by the Spanish government. Although the government denied involvement at the time, in July 1998 the Supreme Court sentenced a former interior minister, his deputy, and a former civil governor to 10 years each in jail for their roles in the organization. In July 1997, following the assassination of a Basque councillor, the government called for the isolation of the HB party, which regularly won around 15% of the vote, and demonstrations against the ETA occurred across Spain. In December the Supreme Court jailed 23 leaders of the HB party for seven years each, after they were found guilty of distributing an ETA video, showing armed and masked men, during the 1996 general election campaign. In September 2000, a total of 37 suspected ETA terrorists, including its military commander Ignacio Gracia Arregui, were arrested by Spanish and French police in a cross-border initiative.
A truce was called in 1989 and secret negotiations between government and ETA representatives were held in Algeria, but the talks broke down and guerrilla activity resumed. In 1995 ETA announced it would stop its campaign of killings if the government agreed to a referendum on Basque independence, but Prime Minister Gonzalez responded by launching a major police offensive against the organization. In late January 2000, the ceasefire declared in 1998 was brought to an end when two car bombs exploded in the Spanish capital, Madrid, killing an army officer and damaging vehicles and buildings. Two days after the blast, more than one million people demonstrated against Basque separatist violence on the streets of Madrid. The wave of violence, and protests in response, continued throughout the year. Spanish police arrested 20 people in September 2000 in raids aimed at dismantling Ekin, the fund-raising wing of ETA. More suspected members were arrested on both sides of the border in an operation against the military side of the group. ETA violence continued unabated, however, claiming the lives of a Supreme Court judge and his two bodyguards in late October, and Ernest Lluch, a former socialist minister, the following month. In March 2001, the deputy mayor of the Basque town of Lasarte was killed, a week after ETA set off two car-bombs in Mediterranean resorts.
HB dissolved Herri Batasuna, long considered to be ETA's political wing was dissolved in June 2001, and a new party, Batasuna (Unity), was created.
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