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Spanish welcomes Basque group decision to lay down arms but minister rules out negotiations
SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (AP) ' Spain was adamant Friday there would be no talks with the Basque separatist group ETA even as it welcomed an end to four decades of bombings and shootings following the group's announcement it was laying down arms.
In a historic statement, ETA announced Thursday it was ceasing its 43-year-long bloody campaign for an independent Basque state in territory straddling northern Spain and southwest France. But the group stopped short of declaring defeat and called on Spain and France to open talks on the conflict.
"There is nothing to negotiate with ETA," Defense Minister Carme Chacon told Spanish National Television, adding that ETA had not achieved any of its aims and that the decades "of pain and crime have not served them (ETA) at all."
It was the first clear signal from the government that there would be no deals made.
Chacon said this was the "beginning of an end that has to be managed intelligently."
"The road map from now on has to be followed with consensus and not in a rush," said Chacon.
ETA's decision was immediately welcomed by Spanish politicians across the board, with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero saying it was a victory for democracy.
Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party and the person tipped to form the next government following a national election Nov. 20, also hailed it as a major development but warned that Spain would only be fully at ease when ETA disbands.
ETA, which killed more 800 people in its now-ended violent campaign, made the announcement in a video of three its members wearing trademark Basque berets and white cloth masks with slits for their eyes. At the end of the clip, they defiantly raised their fists in the air demanding a separate Basque nation.
Spain's top security official on Friday paid homage to the security forces who helped bring about ETA's change of heart, but he said they would continue with their work.
"We have ended a part of our task," said Interior Minister Antonio Camacho. "The most complicated part remains: guaranteeing, by means of strict adherence to our laws, that never again should a generation of Spaniards have to bear the burden of a barbarity that has dragged on our progress and compromised our future."
Spain in recent years has repeatedly refused any negotiations with ETA ' talks in 2006 went nowhere and ended in a quick return to violence by the group.
Relatives of victims killed by ETA also insisted that group disband and tell authorities where its guns and bomb-making material are hidden.
"It is the hoped-for end, but not the desired one," said Angeles Pedraza, president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism. "The victims want the attacks to stop, but we want them to pay for what they have done. We want the total defeat of ETA."
ETA's statement made no apology for having killed hundreds of people.
ETA emerged during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who was obsessed with the idea of Spain as a unified state and suppressed Basque culture, banning the ancient and linguistically unique language ' which sounds nothing like Spanish or any other language ' and destroying books written in it.
Many Basques argue they are culturally distinct from Spain and deserve statehood, and arrests of independence sympathizers still prompt crowds to head to the streets clapping in support. But the wealthy and verdant region also has many inhabitants who consider themselves Spanish, or both Basque and Spanish, and have long been opposed to the militants.
The group's most spectacular attack came in 1973, when ETA planted a bomb on a Madrid street after weeks of tunneling and blew up a car, killing Franco's Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco.
But even as Spain returned to democracy in 1978 and the Basque territory and other Spanish regions were granted sweeping autonomy over the following years, ETA became even more violent, killing hundreds of police officers, army members, politicians and civilians.
Classified as a terrorist group by Spain, the European Union and the United States, the group's power and ability to stage attacks waned over the last decade, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings by radical Islamists triggered a wave of revulsion against violence across Spain.
ETA preceded Thursday's announcement with a cease-fire in September 2010 which it then declared permanent in January. Thursday's video was the first time the group has ever renounced the armed struggle.
Giles reported from Madrid. Daniel Woolls and Alan Clendenning contributed from Madrid.