Eta killing brings Basque backlash

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The Independent Online
IN A dramatic peace gesture inspired by the Olympics, red-bereted officers of the Basque police force, the Ertzaintza, relayed a 'Flame of Peace' through towns and villages of the Basque country yesterdayin memory of a colleague murdered by Eta separatist terrorists.

Last week's fatal shooting of the Ertzaintza (pronounced Erchancha) sergeant-mayor Joseba Goikoetxea, a militant but anti-violence Basque nationalist, stunned Spain's Basque region and sparked a massive public anti-Eta backlash. Mr Goikoetxea was an active member of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the region's most influential political party, which seeks greater autonomy, perhaps even eventual independence, but via the ballot box.

It was the first time Eta had murdered a member of the region's respected police force.

Mr Goikoetxea, 42, was shot in Bilbao last Monday and remained in a coma until he died on Friday. Tens of thousands of Basques turned his funeral into a silent but powerful demonstration for peace and protest against Eta, following his coffin in silence behind a huge banner reading 'With the Ertzaintza, for Peace'.

Yesterday, Basques lined up in the regional capital, Vitoria, to sign a book rejecting violence. A convoy of cars also set out from the town, flying white flags as a peace symbol, to tour the region.

Mr Goikoetxea, a clandestine anti-Franco militant in the days when the dictator banned any outward show of Basque culture, including the language, was one of the founders of the Ertzaintza, set up by the autonomous Basque government in the early Eighties as a result of the lingering anti-Basque image of the Guardia Civil and National Police.

His killing for the first time brought the sometimes- ambiguous PNV into direct conflict with Eta. Speaking on the 90th anniversary yesterday of the death of Sabino Arana, the 'father' of Basque nationalism, the PNV leader Xabier Arzallus launched his most virulent attack to date on the terrorists. 'This is not their land. Theirs is the Soviet Union,' he said, referring to Eta's Marxist-Leninist ideology. 'They have lost their battle.'

Indicating that Eta may wish to create civil strife within the Basque country, he warned against retaliation. 'Our party does not kill. Our party does not hate,' he said.

A new factor over the weekend was that the anti-Eta protests included calls for an end to what many Basques called 'the entire Eta network', including its openly functioning political wing, Herri Batasuna, and its mouthpiece, the newspaper Egin.