A judge today began questioning 23 senior members of Batasuna – the banned political wing of the armed separatist group ETA – arrested in raids in the northern Basque region.
They were arrested in Segura while illegally meeting on Thursday, authorities said. Judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the raid, will determine after questioning whether to file charges against them, a court official said.
Spanish radio reported that the detained are expected not to answer any questions by Garzon.
On Saturday, thousands in the Basque country protested against the arrests. A senior member of Batasuna said Spain’s government had effectively declared war by arresting most of its leadership.
“This police operation uncovers the decision of the Spanish government, which is to issue a total declaration of war against Basque independence,” Pernando Barrena said at a news conference in San Sebastian.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pursued a peace process with ETA after the group declared a cease-fire in March 2006, and saw Batasuna as a potential bridge to ETA militants.
But the peace talks went nowhere, and ETA shattered its cease-fire with a December bombing that killed two people. The government since has arrested dozens of ETA suspects and is now going after their political allies.
Batasuna’s most prominent leader, Arnaldo Otegi, was jailed on terrorism charges in July.
Barrena called the raid revenge for the movement’s hard-line position in the peace talks, and called the arrests “kidnappings”.
Batasuna was banned in 2003 in a Supreme Court ruling that barred it from running in elections and holding formal meetings. The party, however, was allowed to hold news conferences and stage street rallies.
ETA has killed more than 800 people since the late 1960s in a campaign of shootings and bombings. The group is seeking an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and south-west France.