Key Basque leader to appear in court

Basque leader likely to be a key figure in future negotiations between Basque separatists and the Spanish government is to appear in court Wednesday and could face jail time.

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the outlawed Batasuna party, was arrested in May on charges of being a leader of ETA and will face questioning over violence during a recent strike. Arnaldo was free on Ђ 400,000 (US$480,000) bail.

The trial, which was postponed twice because the defendant was ill, comes just a week after the Basque group ETA called a permanent cease-fire, ending decades of armed resistance that killed hundreds. Basque politicians have warned that jailing Otegi could hinder momentum toward peace.

The ETA cease-fire took effect at midnight on Thursday. The group is blamed for more than 800 deaths since the late 1960s in its struggle to create an independent Basque homeland. Its last fatal attack was in May 2003, when a car bombing killed two policemen. Since the announcement, there have been no reports of attacks or street violence.

In addition to Otegi, five other separatism supporters were questioned over strike violence. Two were jailed and the rest released.

Earlier this month, state prosecutors said they would urge the judge to imprison Otegi, claiming his role during the strike violated the terms of his bail.

But Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido said last week he would ask judges involved in Basque cases to take the cease-fire announcement into account in any rulings.

Otegi, who served three years in prison starting in 1989 for his role in an ETA kidnapping, also faces trial on separate charges of defending terrorism by praising dead ETA members, for which the prosecution is seeking a 15-month sentence, reports the AP.

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