Spain police seize Basque leaders

Other News Materials 5 October 2007 09:18 (UTC +04:00)

( BBC ) - Spanish police have arrested the entire alleged leadership of the banned Basque separatist party, Batasuna.

Twenty-two people were detained in the town of Segura on orders from Spain's top anti-terror judge, Baltasar Garzon.

The security forces raided a Batasuna meeting at which the party's old guard was alleged to be transferring control to new leaders.

Mr Garzon led moves to outlaw Batasuna five years ago, accusing it of being a front for armed separatists Eta.

The operation is the latest in four months of operations against Basque radicals, including the arrest of Batasuna's leader Arnaldo Otegi.

Among those arrested on Thursday was Joseba Permach, who has acted as Batasuna's main spokesman since Mr Otegi's arrest in June.

Spain's Attorney General Candido Conde Pumpido welcomed the latest arrests, saying some of those held were accused of co-operating with an armed group.

"These activities cannot be tolerated, so if the police find out about them, as they did in this case in Segura, it seems prudent that they be ordered to intervene," he told Spanish public radio RNE.

Before Batasuna was banned in 2003 it represented about 15% of the people in the Basque region on local councils and in the regional government.

Earlier this year the militant group Eta called off a 15-month ceasefire.

The separatist group is blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people during a four-decade campaign to set up an independent Basque state in northern Spain and south-western France.

Spain's socialist government has been quick to take a hardline approach against Eta to maintain electoral support.

The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Spain, the European Union and the United States.