The head of the Basque government and his chief opponent went on trial on Thursday over past contacts with the banned political wing of the armed separatist group ETA, just weeks before they are to face off in regional elections.
Juan Jose Ibarretxe, member of the governing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and Patxi Lopez, regional leader of Spain’s ruling Socialist Party, face possible prison terms and bans on political activity if found guilty.
But the two, along with another senior member of the Basque branch of the Socialist Party, Rodolfo Ares, who is also on trial, are not expected to be convicted as prosecutors have called for the charges against them to be dropped.
During the first session of the trial, prosecutor Maria Angeles Montes asked the court to shelve the affair based on a previous Supreme Court ruling that a trial can not be held if the accusation is not backed by either prosecutors or the direct victims of a crime.
But Ibarretxe’s lawyer, Mikel Casas, surprised the court with a request that the trial continue to the end to obtain a ruling that proves his client “was right.”
“We want to prove the innocence of the Lehendakari as well as that of the others. What they did, taking a step forward to search for peace, was fair and legitimate,” he told the court, using the Basque name for the head of the northern region’s government.
The court suspended the trial after the morning session to consider the request of prosecution lawyers. It will issue its decision on Monday.
The three politicians are accused of repeatedly meeting leaders of Batasuna — ETA’s political wing — during the failed bid by the government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to negotiate peace with the militant separatist group in 2006.
Batasuna has been outlawed since 2003 for refusing to condemn violence and cut its links to ETA, which has killed 825 people in a 40-year-old campaign for an independent Basque homeland.
Five senior Batasuna members, including veteran Arnaldo Otegi, are also on trial for disobeying the court order to disband.
All three politicians have admitted contacts with Batasuna, but as part of moves to push forward the peace process.
Ibarretxe last week announced regional elections for March 1, in which he is hoping to secure a fourth successive mandate.
But opinion polls indicate his PNV, which has governed the region since 1980, risks being defeated by the Socialists, led by Lopez.
The trial, which was originally expected to last three weeks, is the result of complaints filed by two associations opposed to talks with ETA, the Forum Ermua and Dignity and Justice.
Among witnesses expected to make statements at the trial are Zapatero, who could be asked to respond to questions from the court in writing, and his two predecessors, Jose Maria Aznar and Felipe Gonzalez.
Zapatero tried unsuccessfully to resolve the Basque problem in 2006. But he has taken a hard line against the separatists since ETA called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June 2007 and has repeatedly ruled out any new negotiations.
All eight defendants — the three politicians and five Batasuna members — were in court on Thursday but did not take the stand.
Furthering the growing interest in unidentified flying objects (UFOs), or what the US government refers to as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), the US Department of Defense on Thursday confirmed that photos and videos of UFOs leaked in the past few months were legitimate and taken by US Navy personnel. Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough confirmed to CNN that images and footage of a blinking triangular object in the sky, along with other aerial phenomena that were categorized as a “sphere,” “acorn” and “metallic blimp,” were taken by navy personnel in 2019. Gough told CNN that the department would not comment further on the
DRAWING DISMAY: Giving a forum to the coup leaders at the 10-country bloc’s talks in Jakarta this weekend would legitimize their rule, democracy advocates said Burmese Army Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is to join a special ASEAN summit on the weekend in his first official trip since masterminding a coup which deposed Burmese State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday. The Feb. 1 coup triggered a massive uprising in Myanmar, bringing hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets to demand a return to democracy, while civil servants have boycotted work in a bid to shutter the junta’s administration. The Burmese military junta has deployed lethal force to quell the anti-coup movement, killing more than 720 people and
AMID NEGOTIATIONS: Tehran for the first time confirmed that there was an explosion at its main nuclear facility on April 11, but denied that it was caused by a cyberattack Iran on Saturday named a suspect in the April 11 attack on its Natanz nuclear facility that damaged centrifuges, saying that he had fled the country “hours before” the sabotage happened. While the extent of the damage from the sabotage remains unclear, it comes as Iran tries to negotiate with world powers over allowing the US to re-enter its tattered nuclear deal and lift the economic sanctions it faces. Already, Iran has begun enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity in response — three times higher than ever before — although in small quantities. The sabotage and Iran’s response have further inflamed
China could see its number of births fall to less than 10 million annually in the next five years if the government does not quickly abolish its policy of limiting families to two children, an expert was quoted by media as saying. China’s total population might also fall in a few years, Guangdong Academy of Population Development director Dong Yuzheng (董玉整) told Yicai, a Chinese financial news outlet. The number of babies born in China fell by 580,000 to 14.65 million in 2019 and the birthrate of 10.48 per thousand was the lowest since 1949 when present methods of collating data