GOVERMENT TO CHALLENGE BASQUE VOTE

Basque Country regional president Juan José Ibarretxe upset the government in Madrid once again last week, when he managed to get the regional parliament to approve his plan for a referendum on the rights of the Basques to decide their own future. Ibarretxe’s Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) won the vote narrowly, by 34 votes to 33, with the help of the Communist Party of the Basque Lands, considered by the security forces to be another front for the terrorist group ETA. Basques would also be asked if they would like a negotiated end to the violence of ETA. Ibarretxe said his region has a democratic right to hold a referendum, with surveys suggesting that some 40% of people in the Basque region are in favour of greater autonomy, although they also show that the majority do not want outright independence from Spain. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said the consultation will not take place. The so-called Ibarretxe Plan first surfaced shortly after the Socialists were voted into power in March 2004. Sr Zapatero told Ibarretxe then that his plan was unconstitutional, and last week he said the same thing. He said the plan was divisive because it promoted a nationalist vision of the Basque region that does not exist. The latest initiative is also unlikely to prosper, because the government intends to challenge it in the Constitutional Court. According to the Constitution, only the national government can call a referendum. The main opposition, the Partido Popular, pointed out that the PM had done more than anyone else to help Ibarretxe get his plan approved. PP parliamentary spokeswoman Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Communist Party of the Basque Land would not have been sitting in the regional parliament – where she said it had no right to be – if the government in Madrid had taken legal steps to stop it from taking the place of the Batasuna Party, which was banned in 2003 for being the political wing of ETA and for refusing the condemn ETA violence.

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