Basque leader says region 'does not know peace or freedom'

San Sebastian (Spain) (AFP) –


Veteran Basque leader Arnaldo Otegi vowed Thursday to keep pushing for independence for the northern Spanish region, saying it "does not know peace or freedom," after separatist group ETA announced it had disbanded.

"The time has come to take firm steps as a people. I hope and I hope that we do not lose our position to advance in this way," he said during a brief appearance before the press in the Basque seaside town of San Sebastian.

"We are still a people that still does not know peace or freedom. We will not stop trying to achieve them until we reach them because of our work and our daily activity."

Otegi, the leader of the separatist coalition EH Bildu, the second largest grouping in the regional parliament which won 21 percent of the votes in the 2016 regional elections, is a former ETA militant who in the 1990s opted to enter politics.

He left jail in March 2016 after serving a six and a half year sentence for trying to rebuild his banned Batasuna party, which was considered to be ETA's political wing.

Otegi welcomed ETA's decision to disband, adding he wanted to "recognise all those who have suffered and who continue to suffer, without excluding anyone."

He was speaking just hours after ETA announced in what it said was its final statement, that it had "completely dismantled all its structures" and "put an end to all its political activity".

"Former members of ETA will continue the struggle for a reunited, independent, socialist, Basque-speaking and non patriarchal Basque Country, wherever they see fit," the ETA statement added.

Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, ETA was blamed for hundreds of killings and kidnappings in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France.