BILBAO, Spain, Oct 01, 2013 (AFP) - Hundreds of people protested in Bilbao
in northern Spain on Tuesday against the arrest a day earlier of 18 leaders of
an association that aids jailed members of the armed Basque separatist group
The demonstrators rallied in a square in the centre of the Basque city to
protest against the police operation against Herrira, which was founded in
February 2012 to help ETA prisoners and their families, and demand that the 18
people arrested be released.
The protest was organised by pro-independence Basque groups, who called for
another demonstration on Saturday in Bilbao, the Basque region's economic
capital, against the police operation.
Police detained the Herrira leaders on Monday in simultaneous raids carried
out in Bilbao, Hernani, Pamplona and Vitoria and closed down 38 websites run
by the group as well as dozens of Facebook and Twitter accounts, and froze its
The Spanish government accuses Herrira of "organising and supporting
demonstrations that praised ETA prisoners and their ideals" and it argues that
the group had replaced two other associations that aid ETA prisoners that had
been banned in Spain, Askatasuna and Gestoras pro Amnistia.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of
shootings and bombings for an independent homeland in northern Spain and
The arrests come as ETA is under pressure to give up its arms. In October
2011 it declared a "definitive end to armed activity" but it has not formally
disarmed nor disbanded as the governments of Spain and France demand.
In a statement published Friday in Basque newspaper Gara, ETA said it
refuses to "renounce its past struggle" for Basque independence and called on
the Spanish government to negotiate.
In April a suspected top commander of ETA got a life sentence in France for
the 2007 murder of two Spanish police officers.
Many more of its leaders have been arrested over recent years.
"ETA as an organisation, no longer exists and the ETA that carried out
attacks will not longer return to carry out attacks," Interior Minister Jorge
Fernandez Diaz said Tuesday.
The regional Basque government hailed the arrests of the Herrira members.
"They remind us of past eras, which gladly have been surpassed, and which
we don't want to see come back," the spokesman for the Basque regional
government, Josu Erkoreka, told reporters.