Basque leader says independence has to be achieved through democracy

The leader of the outlawed Batasuna party - considered the political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA - said on Tuesday that independence for the Basque region could only be achieved through democracy, indicating the group was backing away from a long-held policy of armed violence.

"It is not possible to build an independent project if it is not through democratic means," Arnaldo Otegi said in an interview with Barcelona-based Catalunya Radio.

"Nobody suggests it, and if somebody did it would be a mistake, to build an independent state in the Basque region through armed struggle or the force of arms, because in social and political terms that cannot be maintained," Otegi said.

Otegi has recently suggested in other interviews and comments that his group is stepping away from armed struggle and has encouraged the Spanish government and ETA to resume contacts.

ETA has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in its campaign for Basque independence. The group ended a nine-month cease-fire and smashed a tentative peace process with a car bomb in Madrid on Dec. 30 that killed two Ecuadorean immigrants, reports AP. 

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has replied to Otegi's calls for peaceful talks, saying that he would welcome any such move but has urged Batasuna to renounce violence and dissociate itself from ETA.

So far, Batasuna has never condemned ETA's attacks.

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