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1 of 2. A frame grab shows the video declaration of three members of Basque separatist group ETA October 20, 2011 calling a definitive end to 50 years of armed struggle which has cost the lives of at least 850 people, published in Basque language newspaper Gara.
By Jonathan Gleave
Thu Oct 20, 2011 3:31pm EDT
MADRID (Reuters) - Basque separatists ETA, Europe's last major guerrilla group, called a halt to 50 years of violence on Thursday.
ETA's fight to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France has been severely weakened by the arrests of hundreds of its members in recent years and seizures of its weapons.
"ETA has decided the definitive cessation of its armed activity. ETA calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the conflict," the group said in a statement through Basque-language newspaper Gara and an online video.
Three masked ETA members sat behind a table to read the statement in the video and raised their fists in the air at the end of the statement. The group has come under pressure from its own political arm and former members, now in prison, to disband.
The three did not say whether the guerrilla force would turn in its weapons, which Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said is a condition for any negotiations with ETA.
The government welcomed the announcement.
"This has been possible thanks to the mettle and strength of Spanish society, guided by the rule of law, which triumphs today as the only possible way for people to coexist," said Zapatero.
"Our democracy will be one without terrorism, but not one without memory." ETA called a permanent ceasefire in January which was dismissed by Zapatero as meaningless unless they turned in arms.
The Socialist government is deeply unpopular and expected to lose a general election on November 20 due to voter anger over a sluggish economy and a sky-high unemployment.
Even if his government can claim victory in the decades-long effort to bring an end to ETA, analysts have said it will be difficult for the Socialists to make any political gains because voters are more concerned about jobs.
ETA has not killed anyone since March 2010 when a French police officer was killed by members of the group leaving the scene of a robbery. Spain's government says ETA has killed 829 people during its decades of guerrilla activity.
The ETA announcement follows a conference in the Basque country on Monday when international leaders and ex-politicians appealed to ETA to end its struggle.
Mainstream Spanish politicians and press poured scorn on Monday's peace conference and the conclusions it reached. Most Spanish newspapers denounced it as a ruse by ETA's banned political wing to attract international attention and strengthen its hand in possible future negotiations.
The center-right People's Party, which polls show will win the November election, said in a statement on Twitter that ETA's pledge to end armed struggle was meaningless unless the group turned in its weapons.
(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Robert Woodward)
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