World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of people gathered Saturday to celebrate the release from prison of a prominent Basque leader, who called for his region to emulate Catalonia by opening a “second front” of separatism in Spain.
A crowd of more than 8,000, according to local media, gathered at a rally in San Sebastian to welcome Arnaldo Otegi, a left-wing Basque politician who spent six years behind bars for trying to revive the outlawed separatist party Batasuna.
The party was seen as the political wing of ETA, a terrorist group that killed over 800 people in its decades-long campaign for Basque independence. He was released on Tuesday.
“We will never stop doing this, never. For however many prisons, police officers and trials that you put in front of us,” he told the crowd of cheering supporters. “They won’t stop us until we’ve gained our independence.”
Otegi, 57, is a controversial figure in Spain, some calling him a supporter of terrorism, others, a political prisoner.
He has spent a total of 15 years behind bars for his commitment to Basque separatism, but he is also credited with turning the break-away campaign away from violence and towards more peaceful means.
In the 1990s, he was one of the first members of ETA to argue for disarmament.
In 2011, the ETA announced a “definitive cessation to its armed activity”. Although the group has not formally disbanded or disarmed, its last fatal terrorist attack was in 2009.
At the end of the year, the Basque country, located in northern Spain, will hold regional elections. Although Otegi’s sentence bans him from holding public office until 2021, pundits expect him to present a legal challenge against the prohibition.
In the rally, he called for the Basque region to join Catalonia in its defiant march towards independence.
In Catalonia’s regional election in September, 2015, separatist parties won the majority of seats and pledged to break away from Spain in the coming years.
“What a lesson you are teaching us,” said Otegi to the Catalan separatists. “You are making history and we are learning a lot. The Basque people won’t leave you alone.”
Nationally, Spain is frozen in political deadlock and has not managed to form a functioning government since its general elections in December.