BASQUES DEMAND REFERENDUM

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in six cities in the Basque region last Saturday, demanding the right to a referendum on independence. The governing Basque Nationalist Party had hoped to consult the electorate that day on negotiations towards a full referendum on independence within two years, but last month the Supreme Court declared the plan unconstitutional. In another sign of protest against the court’s ruling, there were explosions at two Basque railway stations. Shortly after midnight last Friday, a small bomb brought down the ceiling of a ticket hall in the town of Berriz, and two hours later, petrol bombs were hurled at ticket machines in the nearby town of Amorebieta. There were no injuries. Police are investigating whether the bombings were the work of the armed separatist group ETA or young nationalist sympathisers. During Saturday’s march, police had to separate Basque nationalist demonstrators from a rival rally by a far-right party – which proclaimed that Spain would never be divided. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has portrayed the proposed referendum as political manoeuvring ahead of regional elections next March. But in a newspaper interview, the head of the regional government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, said Madrid had shown an arrogant disregard for the rights of the Basque people.

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