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Separatists Gain in Basque Vote

Ruling nationalists win election in Spanish region, but lose key votes to the new party.

April 18, 2005|From Associated Press

VITORIA, Spain — Ruling Basque nationalists pushing for more autonomy from Spain won a regional election Sunday but fell short of a majority as candidates backed by a banned pro-independence party drew unexpectedly high support.

The wealthy region in northern Spain has had broad self-rule for 25 years, and incumbent Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe was seeking voter support to pressure Madrid to negotiate on his plan for autonomy bordering on independence.

But his Basque Nationalist Party and a moderate ally only won 29 seats in the 75-member Basque legislature, short of a majority and down from 33 in the outgoing parliament, the Basque Interior Ministry said.

An obscure pro-independence party endorsed by Batasuna, the party seen as the political wing of the armed separatist group ETA, won nine seats. It outperformed even Batasuna, which had seven seats in the outgoing legislature before being banned.

ETA has been blamed for more than 800 deaths since the late 1960s in its campaign for an independent Basque homeland.

Ibarretxe's autonomy plan calls for a separate court system, representation in international bodies such as the European Union, and the right to secede from Spain. The plan, narrowly passed by Basque lawmakers last year, was quickly rejected by the Spanish parliament. Sunday's vote was touted as its first popular test.

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