Basque joy, and caution, greet Eta ceasefire news

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The Independent Online

Eta, the Basque separatist group, has restated its historic decision announced 24 hours earlier to lay down its arms for good. The confirmation of the long-awaited breakthrough in the 40-year conflict was greeted enthusiastically by Spaniards, amid warnings of difficulties ahead.

The radical Basque daily Gara published a second Eta statement opening the way to talks. At the end of that process "Basque citizens should speak and decide about their future, bringing about a democratic resolution to the conflict", the statement said.

Some conservatives said the Eta declarations "contained the same old rhetoric", but for Basques in Bilbao neither grey skies nor strong winds could dampen their enthusiasm for what they hope will change their lives.

"It's stupendous news," Jose Ignacio, 48, a schoolteacher, said in the fish market. "I've been waiting for this moment all my life, since I was a student during the terrible Franco years." Mr Ignacio had separatist sympathies in his youth, he confessed, but was convinced talks were now the way forward. "Let's hope things will get easier and Spain will loosen the reins and give us some air."

Maite Fernandez, 61, a former secretary, was watching her fish being chopped and stripped. "I cried with joy when I heard," she said. "It's brilliant. I've spent all my life in the shadow of violence. I know we've got a long struggle ahead, but I'm optimistic. Peace is the most important thing there is."

Her friend, Isabel Oritz, 56, was less sure. "I've still got a lot of hatred for those terrorists. Four people were shot dead in my home village of Elogoibar. It'll take a long time to get over that." Ms Fernandez's daughter, Eva, 32, agreed it would not be all plain sailing. "The conservatives don't want it. They're all old fascists and could torpedo the whole business."

Ms Fernandez said she was so happy she had toasted the news with champagne as soon as she heard it. "I can't tell you how pleased I am. But now everybody's got to work really hard."

For Jacinto Cundin, 51, owner of the bank of marble fish stalls, the ceasefire meant good business. "We are prosperous region, and this is a rich town, but entrepreneurs have invested money elsewhere because they are afraid of violence. Now they will return. Let's hope this lasts for ever."

Politicians are keen not to raise expectations. "We must operate with prudence and calm," said the Socialist party's spokesman Jose Blanco yesterday, echoing the low-key tone of the Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "This is not time for celebrations, but for a lot of work in which everyone must take part, without exclusions."

The opposition Popular Party has reservations but its leader Mariano Rajoy seems open to persuasion. "No one would understand if the PP were to obstruct a process that leads to the end of terrorism."

He feared Eta still wanted self-determination and independence, even though those words are not mentioned in its statements.

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