Aznar, who has already announced he will resign after two terms as prime minister at general elections in 2004, said he will stand as the last candidate on the slate of his ruling Popular Party for the nationalist-controlled council of the port city of Bilbao. Voters in Spain's municipal elections cast their vote for a party, not a specific candidate, and politicians are then elected according to their order on the party's list. Standing in final position on his party's list, Aznar's possibilities of being elected are practically zero. “I know that this has only a symbolic value, but I am taking a stand,” Aznar said after announcing his surprise decision to rapturous applause from the Popular Party's national convention. “Freedom needs many such gestures and here is mine, humble but sincere.” As prime minister, Aznar has made the fight against armed Basque separatist group ETA one of his top priorities. Western Europe's most active guerrilla group, ETA has killed some 838 people since 1968 in pursuit of an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France. Aznar launched a political drive last year to ban radical Basque nationalist party Batasuna for allegedly financing ETA. Since then, the level of political confrontation in the volatile region has spiralled. Batasuna, which won 10 percent of the vote in 2001 elections, is likely to be banned by the Supreme Court ahead of May's elections. Its leaders have vowed to launch a new political faction, but it is unclear whether this too would be banned. Aznar, who renamed the PP and has steered it more to the political centre since taking its leadership in 1989, dedicated the decision to run to the memory of his father who was from the Basque city. However, many Basque nationalists revile the role of Aznar's father as head of state radio during part of dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

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