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Airport Attacks Cloud Basque Peace Talks
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Airport Attacks Cloud Basque Peace Talks

Airport Attacks Cloud Basque Peace Talks

Airport Attacks Cloud Basque Peace Talks
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Basques and Spaniards held rallies over the weekend to condemn the Basque separatist group ETA for an airport bombing two weeks ago that left two people dead in Madrid. The bombings have left the future of peace talks between ETA and the Spanish government in doubt.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

And let's go now to Spain, where there were protests over the weekend against what was described as terrorism by the Basque separatist group ETA. Basques and Spaniards alike, protested. And the rallies came two weeks after an ETA car bomb blew up a parking garage at Madrid's International Airport. This explosion killed two people and shattered the government's peace talks with the group.

Jerome Socolovsky went to the Basque region and sent this report.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: It's a spring like day in San Sebastian, one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Lots of families are out for a stroll along the half-shell-shaped beach, which is graced with the elegant Sanda Siecla(ph) hotel. But the happy scene belies the renewed threat of terrorism here, since the peace process crumbled.

Victor Morales(ph) waves to his son on the merry-go-round.

Mr. VICTOR MORALES (Resident): (Speaking Foreign Language)

SOCOLOVSKY: It's not Gaza or a war situation, Morales says, but we've had 30 or 40 years of persistent violence. I was born in a Basque town, and we all have the feeling that it will never end.

In recent decades, the Spanish government has tried repeatedly to negotiate with ETA. But each time the peace process broke down and ETA renewed its campaign of shootings and bombings, that has so far claimed more than 800 lives. The airport explosion came nine months after ETA declared its latest cease-fire and began peace talks with the government.

But those talks went sour at a secret meeting in Ankara, Turkey in mid December, says Martxelo Otamendi. Otamendi is director of the Basque language newspaper, Berria. He's been accused by the government as supporting ETA. He denies it. Inside the café on the boardwalk, Otamendi describes what happened at the meeting in Ankara between ETA and the Spanish government.

Mr. MARTXELO OTAMENDI (Director, Berria): (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: They were just reproaching each other - you did this and that wrong. The government says to ETA you've been stealing guns and threatening businesses. ETA says to the government, you've still been arresting people. Until last month, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had been one of the most popular Spanish leaders in recent history.

That popularity was largely based on getting ETA to the negotiating table. But Otamendi says that when the government suggested, in a leak to the press, that the Ankara meeting went well, ETA's leaders weren't pleased.

Mr. OTAMENDI: (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: Some of them got angry and said - no, the meeting went very badly. Even so, on December 29th, Zapatero offered an upbeat assessment of the peace process. The next day, a van with hundreds of pounds of explosives blew up at the Madrid Airport parking garage. It killed two Ecuadorian immigrants who were napping in their cars. The biggest rallies condemning the attack were held in Madrid, and here in the Basque Port city of Bilbao.

(Soundbite of crowd clapping)

Basques cheered their regional President Juan Jose, or Juan José Ibarretxe, who marched in the vanguard. Ibarretxe says Basque should be able to decide peacefully whether they want to be independent.

The 87-year-old Andres Idaragori(ph) marches with youthful vigor behind the president. Idaragori says he has 150 reasons not to be Spanish.

Mr. ANDRES IDARAGORI (Protester): (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: Such as - when he was imprisoned as a teenager in a concentration camp that was run by forces loyal to General Francisco Franco, or that during 36 years of dictatorship, Franco outlawed the Basque language.

Since Spain became a democracy in the 1970s, it granted autonomy to this region. Madrid let it officially be called Euskadi, which is what Basques called the Basque country. But independence is out of the question.

Today, Prime Minister Zapatero is expected to appear in parliament in Madrid to outline his anti-terrorism strategy after the airport bombing.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in the Basque city of Bilbao.

INSKEEP: Here's an update on another story we're following this morning.

In Iraq, two of Saddam Hussein's aides were hanged today. One of them was Saddam Hussein's half-brother, the other was the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court. They were both found guilty in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims in Iraq. That happened after an assassination attempt against Saddam back in the 1980s.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government says that all laws were respected during this execution and that there were no insults or shouts similar to those when Saddam himself was hanged last month.

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