Basques from Spain, France launch new ‘independence’ party

Updated 24 February 2013
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Basques from Spain, France launch new ‘independence’ party

PAMPLONA, Spain: Basques from Spain and France yesterday formally launched a new pro-independence party, Sortu, born from the ashes of Batasuna which was outlawed for links to armed separatists, ETA.
About 300 delegates from the Basque regions of Spain and France elected leaders for the left-wing party at a congress in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona.
They chose former Batasuna member Hasier Arraiz Barbadillo, 39, as party leader and as secretary general Arnaldo Otegi, who is in jail for trying to resurrect Batasuna after it was banned in 2003.
Barbadillo told the gathering: “Full freedom is our aim” for the Basque Country, called Euskal Herria in the Basque language, which spans parts of northern Spain and southern France.
“In Euskal Herria and wherever it is present, Sortu will be the mouthpiece for your struggle,” he told delegates.
The left-wing pro-independence movement has gained political weight in Spain over recent years as ETA has declined with many of its leaders getting arrested.
In his absence, Otegi addressed the congress in a letter in which he called on members to “fight in a new political phase” for the independence movement.
ETA is blamed for 829 killings in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque homeland. It is classed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.
It announced a “definitive end” to its armed activity in October 2011 but has not formally disarmed or disbanded as the Spanish and French governments demand.
Otegi called the Basque independence movement “a political conflict that is still unresolved because the Spanish and French states continue to deny the nationhood of Euskal Herria and its right to self-determination.”
Spanish authorities banned Sortu in 2011 because of its links to Batasuna, which was considered the political arm of ETA. The Constitutional Court legalised Sortu in 2012.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 51 min 51 sec ago
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.