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Spain Intensifies Pressure on Basque Pro-Independence Party - 2002-08-23

A prosecutor in Spain says a judge may proceed with plans to suspend activities of a radical separatist party, considered the political wing of the Basque terrorist group ETA. A separate move in the Spanish parliament would ban the party altogether.

Spanish High Court judge Baltasar Garzon has begun proceedings to suspend for up to five years the Basque pro-independence party, Batasuna, after receiving a favorable report from the court's chief prosecutor.

In a report requested by the judge, Chief Prosecutor Jesus Santos said the suspension of Batasuna's activities is necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks by ETA, because the party is part of ETA's infrastructure.

The prosecutor said there is sufficient evidence to prove that ETA controls Batasuna to the point of deciding, which of its members will stand for office. Mr. Santos said the party includes among its candidates convicted members of the terrorist organization, including prisoners. He said the party, in turn, raises money for terrorist activities and recruits prospective members of ETA.

More than 400 members of Batasuna have been arrested for collaborating with ETA, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Judge Garzon Friday informed a lawyer representing Batasuna that he intends to suspend the party's activities, while he continues to investigate its links with ETA. The judge also informed the directors of cultural centers and taverns run by Batasuna that their economic activities will be supervised by the courts as of the end of September.

He is expected to order the suspension of the party early next week. That would mean Batasuna will be forbidden to hold public meetings or rallies, its offices will be shut, and it will not be able to put forward candidates for election.

The court action is independent of a move in Spain's parliament, sponsored by the ruling Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists, to ban the party altogether. A special session of parliament will be held Monday to vote on the measure.

ETA has threatened any party that votes for, or even abstains in, the passage of the bill.

ETA is blamed for killing more than 800 people in a more than 30-year campaign to establish an independent Basque state in southern France and northern Spain.