Basque separatists Batasuna say they are closing down

BORDEAUX, France Thu Jan 3, 2013 2:41pm EST

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BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Batasuna, regarded by Spain as the political wing of ETA rebels, said it was closing down on Thursday, two months after a legal party calling for independence for the Basque Country finished second in regional elections.

Batasuna, which made the announcement at a press conference in Bayonne, France, where it is legal, said it wanted to clear the way for Basque separatists operating within the political system. The party had been outlawed by Spain in 2003 for links to ETA, which it denied.

"We have to recognize that the political phase during which we created Batasuna has now come to an end. With that political phase now closed, it would appear that Batasuna's time is also over," party member Jean-Claude Aguerre told reporters.

ETA announced an end in 2011 to four decades of violent struggle for independence that had left more than 800 people dead. The Basque separatist vote has migrated to pro-independence party Bildu, which won 21 out of 75 seats in the Basque parliament in an election in October.

Batasuna, founded in 2001 by members of an earlier banned separatist party, wanted independence for seven traditionally Basque provinces in northern Spain and southwest France.

ETA began its violent campaign in Spain under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco,. when Basque language and culture were suppressed. Spain's Basque Country now has a high degree of economic and political autonomy from the rest of the country.

(Reporting By Claude Canellas; Writing By Vicky Buffery; Editing by Paul Day and Jason Webb)

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