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Spanish Police Arrest Suspected ETA Members

Spain's police arrest 36 members of banned youth group with alleged links to ETA, in the latest strike against the weakened Basque separatist movement

Lisa Bryant

Spain's police have arrested 36 members of a banned youth group with alleged links to ETA, in the latest strike against the weakened Basque separatist movement

Court authorities said Tuesday the operation was still under way against members of Segi, an outlawed youth group in Spain with suspected ties to ETA. So far they have arrested about three dozen members in an overnight operation conducted in northern Spain's Basque Country and in Navarra.

In recent years, Spanish and French authorities have stepped up their efforts to eradicated ETA. The separatist group is blamed for killing more than 800 people in its four-decade campaign for an independent Basque nation in parts of northern Spain and southwestern France. ETA's roots are in Spain, however, and it has staged almost all of its attacks there.

In August, Spanish police arrested suspected ETA commando Juan Manuel Inciarte in Madrid. He is suspected of killing five police and a pregnant woman. A few months earlier, police arrested two suspected ETA leaders in separate operations in southwestern France and in Paris. French police also discovered what they describe a bomb-making factory in the city of Grenoble.

Christian Aguerre is a retired journalist in France's Basque region who has been covering ETA for years.

Aguerre says that it's impossible to completely eradicate ETA, because it will always draw new members. But he says its military and political capabilities have declined significantly since the 1970s and 1980s, when it was a force to be reckoned with.

Efforts by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to launch talks with ETA failed two years ago. After a cease fire, ETA resumed its operations. Even weakened, it is still capable of deadly strikes, including an August bombing in the island of Mallorca that killed two civil guard officers.

But Aguerre says Basque public support for ETA and Basque independence from Spain has declined significantly. In the latest mark of growing disaffection, Spain's Basque regional parliament in May selected its first non-nationalist government in 30 years. The head of the new coalition government says his top priority will be to end ETA terrorism.

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