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ETA vows to keep fighting after 50 years

MADRID (Reuters) - Armed separatist group ETA on Friday vowed to keep fighting as it marked its 50th anniversary and said demand for an independent Basque Country was stronger now than when it formed under the Franco dictatorship.

ETA said the governments of Spain and France had forced it to continue its armed struggle in which it has killed more than 800 people since the late 1950s, mainly in shootings and bombings.

“Without imposition from the states, this people would take the path of independence by pacific and democratic means ...

“Until then we will have to keep fighting with all strength and means because the enemy states do not show the slightest sign of a will to respect the Basque Country’s word,” ETA said in a statement published in the newspapers Gara and Berria.

ETA formed during General Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship when the Basque language and culture were repressed. Spain returned to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975 and the Basque Country, and regions such as Catalonia and Galicia, have since gained varying degrees of autonomy.

“Although it (ETA) rose up in Francoism, ETA’s goal was not to conquer Francoism but to achieve liberty for the Basque Country, and ETA still continues bound to that goal,” ETA’s statement said.

“Today, support for independence is more deeply rooted than 50 or 30 years ago,” it said.

Spanish governments have held unsuccessful peace talks with ETA rebels, including the current Socialist government which abandoned talks in 2006 when the group killed two people with a car bomb at Madrid airport.

Spanish authorities say ETA has been reduced to a relatively small number of guerrillas after a series of arrests of senior figures.

Polls show most Basques do not want an independent state.

Reporting by Raquel Castillo and Sarah Morris; Editing by Janet Lawrence