SPAIN'S public prosecutor requested yesterday that the leader of a banned Basque party be charged with belonging to the separatist group ETA, saying there was evidence he could be one of its leaders. Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi and his political allies have said the drive to prosecute him complicates the government's attempt to start a peace process in the Basque country. Otegi, 46, spent two days in jail last week after a judge questioned him about allegations of belonging to ETA. He was released on bail of 400'000 euros ($490'000). In a document released on Wednesday, the prosecutor requested that Otegi be formally charged and said there was evidence that he could be a leader of ETA, the armed group that has killed about 850 people in its four-decade campaign for Basque independence. Legal moves against Otegi have gathered pace weeks after the Spanish Parliament backed a government proposal of talks with ETA if it halted violence. The peace overture was greeted by a series of bombings, the most serious a car bomb that injured 52 people last week. Otegi, who spent time in jail in the 1980s and 1990s for ETA-related crimes, said on Sunday that jailing the spokesman of a group necessary to any negotiations showed the Spanish government might not be ready for a peace process. The prosecutor has also asked for Otegi's party colleague Jon Salaberria - who did not show up for a court hearing last week - to be charged. Both men lost their immunity as members of the Basque parliament earlier this year as a ban on the party which authorities consider the political wing of ETA stopped them from running for re-election. A spokesman for Batasuna in France said yesterday two microphones had been found hidden in a wall of its offices in the town of Bayonne, which would allow an eavesdropper to listen to conversations in the meeting rooms.

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