BILBAO, Spain (Reuters) - The outlawed political wing of Basque separatist group ETA said Thursday it would reject violence in its drive to be legalized but the government said it must go further to be able to participate in elections.
The statement was the latest sign of increased pressure by the Batasuna party on ETA to lay down its arms, feeding speculation that the separatist group could be close to abandoning its 40-year campaign of violence.
The reformed Batasuna party will have “a democratic organization and a public commitment to exclusively pacific means,” the party said through Basque newspaper Gara, which often publishes ETA and Batasuna messages.
Batasuna has made similar statements in the past, but it has refrained from specifically condemning ETA violence, which is the condition for it to regain legal status.
Batasuna wants to participate in Basque local elections in May.
The government said the latest gesture showed that ETA has been severely weakened by arrests of its leaders, but said Batasuna must make a complete break with ETA.
“They’ve got to persuade ETA to give up completely or Batasuna has to definitively separate from ETA,” Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Cadena Ser radio.
ETA has killed more than 800 people in its campaign for independence for the Basque Country. Last month it announced a unilateral ceasefire to encourage talks with the government.
But the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says it will not negotiate with ETA unless the group turns in all its weapons and explosives.
Center-right opposition Popular Party leaders immediately called on Zapatero not to negotiate with ETA or Batasuna.
Reporting by Arantza Goyoaga; Writing by Fiona Ortiz