• Spain's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Basque separatist leader to be released from Spanish jail
Arnaldo Otegi at a press conference in 2009. Photo: AFP

Basque separatist leader to be released from Spanish jail

AFP · 1 Mar 2016, 08:57

Published: 01 Mar 2016 08:57 GMT+01:00

While some hail Arnaldo Otegi as a hero, for others, especially relatives of Eta victims, he remains a hate figure. 

Otegi, 57, is set to be released from a prison in the northern city of Logroño on Tuesday after serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for trying to resurrect Basque separatist party Batasuna.

He will then head to his hometown of Elgoibar about 150 kilometres (90 miles) to the north, where his supporters will hold celebrations to mark his return.

Batasuna has been banned since 2003 for being the "political wing" of Eta, which is blamed for over 820 killings in its campaign of bombings and shootings to create an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Batasuna re-emerged as a legal pro-independence party, Sortu, which advocates for independence through democratic means.

Otegi was elected its secretary general in 2013 while in jail.

"The sentence was unjust and disproportionate, even jurists said so, as he had for a long time advocated for peace and the end of violence," journalist and Basque specialist Gorka Landaburu, who lost the sight of one eye due to an Eta letter bomb in 2002, told AFP.

Spain's former crusading judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered Otegi's arrest in 2009, backed his release.

"He can do much more outside than inside jail for peace," Garzon said last year.

Catalan journalist Antoni Batista, who covered the Basque Country for 25 years and recently published a biography of Otegi, describes him as a "European Nelson Mandela".

"Otegi is the man who has contributed the most to put an end to Eta violence," he told AFP.

 A Basque Gerry Adams

An active member of Eta since the age of 19, Otegi has spent a total of 15 years behind bars.

In the 1990s he became one of the first Eta members to call for disarmament, earning him comparisons to Northern Ireland's Gerry Adams, the former head of the political wing of the Irish republican Army (IRA).

In 2006-2007, Otegi was one of the main architects of peace negotiations between Eta and the Spanish government.

The talks broke down, largely because a bombing at Madrid airport in December 2006 that left two dead. The attack was carried out by Eta militants who opposed disarmament.

Dozens of people with links to ETA were arrested, including Otegi.

In October 2011 Eta declared a "definitive end to armed activity" but it has yet to formally disband or disarm.

Some of Otegi's opponents see him as an imposter.

Story continues below…

"Otegi is not a man of peace," centre-right daily newspaper El Mundo wrote on Monday in an editorial.  

"He is a defender of extortion, kidnapping and assassination."

In 2012 Otegi presented his "most sincere apology" for having contributed to the "pain" and "humiliation" of Eta victims.

Both his supporters and detractors predict he will play an important role, especially in regional elections slated for year-end in the Basque Country.

He will not be eligible to run for office until 2022, although he can contest this restriction in court.

By Laurence Boutreux

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain’s Gasol heading to Rio Olympics despite Zika fear
“My commitment to the team is bigger than the fear of what may happen,” Gasol, left, said. Photo: AFP

Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol will go to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he announced in comments published Saturday, after considering skipping the Games due to fears over the Zika virus.

Radicalism or safety first? Spain wavers before vote
Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, on the campaign trail last week. Photo: AFP

How will the far-left do in Spain's second general election in six months?

Brexit
Brexit: fresh calls for Catalan vote on secession from Spain
Separatists in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia have for years lobbied for an independence referendum. Photo: AFP

Could Brexit lead to the fracturing of Spain?

Gibraltar stands defiant against Spain after Brexit vote
Gibraltar's First Minister said there would be no negotiating with Spain. Photo: AFP

Gibraltar's Chief Minister made very clear that the British Overseas Territory would not bow to pressure from Spain after Brexit.

Brexit
Anxiety over Brexit damage to UK-Spain bilateral trade

The Local canvassed the views of British businesses in Spain to see what they thought about Brexit.

Brexit
View from the Costa: British expats fear time in sun is over
British people enjoy a drink on a terrace in Ohriuela. Photo: AFP

After Brexit, many British expats feared on Friday their golden time in the sun could be over...

Brexit
Black Friday: Spanish markets plummet with news of  Brexit
The IBEX has fallen 12 percent since Brexit result. Photo: AFP

Spain’s IBEX suffered the worst fall in its history on Friday after the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Brexit
Rajoy: British expats will have same rights in Spain...for now
Rajoy urges Brits to keep calm and carry on. Photo: AFP

Spain's premier on Friday sought to reassure Britons living in Spain after the Brexit vote, saying that for now, they would keep the same rights to live and work there.

Brexit
Will Brexit affect Sunday's general election in Spain?
Spain goes to the polls again on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Spain's conservative interim Prime Minister looks set to benefit as his countrymen fear economic repercussions from the UK's decision to leave the EU.

Brexit limbo: What happens next for expat Brits in Spain?
Is a storm brewing for British expats? Photo: AFP

So what happens now for Brits in Spain? Nothing too dramatic, but a lot of uncertainty amid legal limbo.

Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Politics
Spanish elections: What are the possible outcomes?
International
Worried after Brexit? Here’s how to become Spanish
International
Brit expats in Spain stunned and fearful after Brexit win
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
The intern's guide to surviving a summer in Spain
National
The weird and wonderful ways Spain celebrates midsummer
National
Get your kit off! Spain's ten best nudist beaches
International
Spain REALLY wants Britain to stay in EU and here's why
National
Don't jump! Officials in Spain warn against 'balconing' craze
National
Girl's best friend: Four-year-old finds comfort with a bull
Politics
Hilarious video pokes fun at expats in Spain over Brexit
National
Top ten tricks to survive the Spanish summer
National
Spain knocked off top spot for world's best restaurant
International
Meet the Spaniard working as North Korea's secret weapon
National
Sheep invade Spanish city after shepherd takes a snooze
Features
Five brilliant ways to beat the crowds in Barcelona
National
Experts warn of jellyfish boom across Spain's beaches
Politics
Are these the weirdest political campaign ads ever?
National
Giant inflatable poo goes walkies from town square
Lifestyle
Spanish study proves fat really ISN'T bad for you
National
President Obama announces three-day visit to Spain in July
International
Couple found dead on yacht in Catalonia after 'drugs binge'
National
Hotting up! Spain set for hotter than average summer
International
'British expats could lose right to live in Spain' warns Rajoy
3,405
jobs available