September 16, 2008 / 6:49 PM / 9 years ago

Spain's Supreme Court bans Basque party

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Supreme Court has banned a party in the country's Basque region because of its links to armed separatists ETA, the court's head said on Tuesday.

Hours later, bomb disposal experts in the Basque town of Basauri defused a limpet mine attached to a car belonging to a policeman -- an attempted attack the regional government blamed on ETA. The officer drove several kilometers (miles) before the bomb was discovered by agents as the car entered police headquarters in the town near Bilbao.

The Supreme Court had already banned the ANV (Nationalist Basque Action) from taking part in Spain's general election in March, but had stopped short of preventing party members from carrying out other activities.

Its ruling on Tuesday meant the party -- which has 400 or so local councilors in the Basque Region and Navarra, in northern Spain -- would be dissolved and its assets seized, court head Francisco Jose Hernando said.

The Spanish authorities say the ANV has taken over representing ETA from Batasuna, the political wing of ETA, which is already banned.

From Wednesday, the Supreme Court will start to study whether to also ban Basque party PCTV.

ETA and its supporters want an independent Basque Country composed of parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

ETA members have killed more than 800 people in their four-decade-long armed campaign which began under right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco and has continued since Spain's transition to democracy following his death in 1975.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tried to negotiate a peace deal with ETA during his last government, but called off talks when ETA bombed Madrid airport in December 2006, killing two people.

Last week, Spain's Constitutional Court also banned a plan by the Basque Country's government to hold a referendum-style vote on the region's future.

Basque Country Premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe, a member of the moderate Basque Nationalist Party, said the region's government would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over the ban, branding it "an abuse of democracy".

Spain's Socialist government has said from the start that the vote would be illegal and could not go ahead.

Ibarretxe has not clarified whether he wants the Basque Country to secede or just obtain more powers from Madrid. The Basque Country already has autonomy over many areas including health and education, which it has used to promote the Basque language.

Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Teresa Larraz, writing by Sarah Morris, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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