Raising alarm over new limits on free speech, non-violent Basque nationalists demonstrated yesterday against Madrid's campaign to outlaw the radical party Batasuna for alleged ties to the armed group ETA. Spanish authorities and courts have banned several protests for fear of violence or support for Batasuna, but the mainstream party Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) swam against the current to stage a demonstration in the Basque spiritual capital, Guernica. We are very firm against violence and terrorism, but we think the worldwide wave to limit freedoms to combat terrorism -something that has become fashionable in the United States -- has left us hanging in a dangerous situation, said Gorka Knorr, the party's secretary-general. Organisers called off pro-Batasuna street demonstrations in Bilbao scheduled for Saturday and in San Sebastian on Sunday after local authorities revoked permission. However, hardcore supporters may still march anyway, possibly leading to clashes with police like those last Sunday in San Sebastian, which followed a legal pro-Batasuna march. Under orders from a judge, police wielding batons broke up a small demonstration in one town on Friday night. To protest against the clampdown, a crowd estimated by police at 600 gathered in Guernica's central square for 15 minutes of silence followed by applause, the singing of the Basque national anthem and shouts of Independence! The town is symbolic to Basques as the site of the German air bombing in 1937 at the invitation of Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco during Spain's Civil War. But EA leaders were also careful to separate themselves from Batasuna and to condemn violence by ETA, western Europe's most active guerrilla group, which has killed 836 people since 1968 in its drive for an independent state in northern Spain and southwestern France, the ethnic Basque homeland. Relentless ETA violence -- a car bomb last month killed a young girl and a man -- has led the Spanish government to pass a law seeking to ban Batasuna for refusing to condemn the killings. High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon has suspended the party for at least three years, confiscating its property. He is also asking foreign governments to switch off the party website and evict it from its properties in France, Belgium and Nicaragua. Politics for us is not street violence, but nor is it prohibiting demonstrations and eliminating individual and collective freedoms, EA President Begona Errazti said. In no way is politics the taking advantage of violence to halt the aspirations of the Basque people. EA, Batasuna and the dominant Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), combined, win a small majority of votes in the Basque country against Spanish parties, such as Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists. The Basque nationalists urge a political solution, but the Spanish government and Garzon say there is ample evidence Batasuna is part of ETA and is trying to destroy democracy from within. Batasuna denies it is ETA's political wing.
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