Socialist to lead first non-nationalist Basque government

Socialist Patxi Lopez is expected to become the head of a minority government in the Basque Country following last month's elections. It's the first time since a regional parliament was set up in 1980 that a non-nationalist heads the region.


AFP - The regional parliament in Spain's Basque Country will Tuesday elect Socialist Patxi Lopez as the head of the region's first non-nationalist government since the chamber was set up in 1980.

While the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) won the most seats in the 75-seat chamber on March 1, the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party and the tiny UPyD party have a combined majority of 39 seats.

The PNV has ruled the wealthy northeastern region bordering France, which has been wracked by decades of violence by the armed Basque separatist group ETA, since it got its own regional assembly.

"What will change, aside from the policies that the government of Patxi Lopez will adopt, is the idea that power in the Basque Country is the exclusive inheritance of the PNV," Florencio Dominguez, a journalist and author of several books on Basque issues, told AFP.

Lopez will head a minority government without forming an official coalition with the PP, which on the national level has been fiercely critical of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The two parties, which had accused the PNV of some ambivalence towards ETA, have already said they intend to adopt tougher measures against the outfit which has killed 825 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland.

Subsidies for associations representing imprisoned ETA members will be abolished, Basque police will be given more means to fight ETA and public tributes to ETA members will be forbidden.

The new government has also said it will halt a programme aimed at making Basque the main language in school, with children given the option to study mainly in Spanish if their families want them to.

Weather maps on Basque public television will no longer show "the Greater Basque Country", embracing both the Spanish and France Basque countries and the Spanish province of Navarra, but only Euskadi, the Spanish Basque Country.

"All the measures which the Basque government adopted, openly or implicitly, in defence of the Basque identity will end," radio Cadena Ser commentator and essayist Jose Maria Ridao told AFP.

Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the head of the outgoing PNV government, had been battling with the central government to hold a referendum among Basques on the region's links with the rest of Spain.

The three-province Basque Country, whose largest city is Bilbao, already has extensive home-rule powers, including a regional police force as well as control over education, health care and tax collection.

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