Spain's premier addresses ETA problem
The prime minister apologized Monday for putting his faith in a Basque peace process that collapsed in a deadly car bombing, but he insisted he was right to have sought negotiations with separatist group and appealed to his political foes for unity at a time of crisis.
In a speech to parliament often interrupted by jeers from conservative lawmakers, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not announce any new measures against the separatist group ETA. He said police pressure and court trials continued during the now-ended ETA cease-fire and will proceed as usual.
Instead, he focused on defending his record and seeking to muster support for his government as conservatives have called him naive for seeking to negotiate with what they called an active terrorist group that could not be trusted.
The Socialist leader said that with the Dec. 30 bombing at Madrid's airport that killed two people, ETA had shattered a nine-month cease-fire and a nascent peace process.
"It made the worst decision, a criminal, mistaken and useless one. It chose the path of terror," Zapatero told a crowded, special session of the Congress of Deputies, the lower chamber of parliament.
"I want to recognize the clear mistake I made before all Spanish citizens," Zapatero said.
Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy wasted no time in attacking Zapatero, saying the premier had lost all credibility for saying before the bombing that the peace process had left Spain better off than it was a year ago and that better times awaited it.
"What is your word worth after all this?" Rajoy said. "You have been fooled by a pack of murderers."
In one of his hardest-hitting remarks, he accused Zapatero of giving in to the terrorists.
"If you don't please them, they place bombs, and if there are no bombs, it's because you have given in to them," said Rajoy, whose party demands defeating ETA purely by police action.
He said his predecessors have tried to negotiate with ETA — talks in 1989 and 1999 went nowhere — and that as ETA had not staged a deadly attack in more than three years when it called a "permanent" cease-fire in March 2006, he felt conditions were adequate to attempt another peace process.
"I did what most Spaniards wanted — try to use the truce to end the violence," he said.