Kosovo arouses fears of disintegration in Spain

(dpa) - The independence of Kosovo is causing concern in Spain, where the government fears it could encourage domestic separatist movements.

Spain will not give diplomatic recognition to the new state, the Socialist government and the conservative opposition agree.

The unilateral declaration of independence has not been sealed by the United Nations and may increase instability in the Balkans, the government argues.

The biggest reason for Spain's opposition, however, is the fear that an independent Kosovo will boost separatist tendencies in the northern Spanish regions of the Basque region, Catalonia and Galicia, which have their own languages alongside Spanish.

Yet in order not to break European Union unity, Spain intends to send about 20 experts to take part in a EU mission to help build the infrastructure of the new state.

The government maintains there is no comparison between Kosovo and Spanish regions where separatist tendencies appear to be growing stronger.

The question of separatism is at the top of the political agenda in the March 9 elections, with the opposition accusing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of having encouraged it by making a failed attempt to negotiate with the militant Basque separatist group ETA.

The government is currently cracking down on ETA and related groups, arresting ETA activists and backing judicial measures to bar parties linked to ETA from the elections.

ETA, which is held responsible for more than 800 deaths in 40 years, is believed to be militarily weaker than ever before, but the related party EHAK-PCTV has nine legislators in the 75-strong Basque regional parliament.

Another related party, ANV, has hundreds of local councillors.

Kosovo became independent eight months before Basque regional prime minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe intends to stage a referendum, which Spain regards as illegal, on the Basques' "right to decide" on future options, which are understood to include independence.

Ibarretxe, whose moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) includes separatist currents, sees the referendum as the way to finally achieve peace with ETA.

Basque government spokeswoman Miren Azkarate welcomed the independence of Kosovo as a "lesson" in how identity conflicts could be solved in a "pacific and democratic" way.

PNV president Inigo Urkullu said his party would push in the Spanish parliament for Spain to recognize the new state.

Catalonia does not have a violent independence movement, but separatist strivings are gaining strength, with small groups burning pictures of King Juan Carlos in 2007, and regionalist parties growing bolder in demanding more autonomy.

Spain is divided into 17 semi-autonomous regions, among which the Basques and Catalans enjoy the widest measures of self-government, including their own police forces.

Catalan regional vice-premier Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira urged the government to recognize Kosovo while conceding that the situation there was not comparable with Spain.

Kosovo could not be an example for Catalonia because of its violent past, said Pere Macias of the moderate nationalist formation CiU.

Galicia has been quieter on the separatism front, but regional nationalists joined the Basques and Catalans in welcoming the independent Kosovo.

"Any process of self-determination is legitimate in any part of Europe," said Francisco Rodriguez of the Galician nationalist party BNG.

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