Spanish PM Zapatero hails end to Basque Eta violence

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Media captionResident of San Sebastian in the Basque country: "It's fabulous. We've been waiting for this for years"

Spain's prime minister has hailed the end of Basque separatist group Eta's armed campaign as a "victory for democracy, law and reason".

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the 800 victims of Eta's 40-year struggle would not be forgotten and the "terror" should never happen again.

His defence minister has ruled out negotiations with Eta - a key demand in the group's declaration.

Spanish politicians previously rejected similar announcements by the group.

However, correspondents say this time appears to be different, with Thursday's move the latest step in what Eta has called its transition to peaceful methods.

'Direct dialogue'

Mr Zapatero said after 40 years of bomb attacks and assassinations, Spain was now experiencing "legitimate satisfaction" at the victory over terror.

"It is a satisfaction in mourning for the pain caused by violence that should never have happened and that should never happen again," he said.

In a statement provided to the BBC on Thursday, Eta said it had renounced armed struggle as a tool for achieving an independent Basque state - a key demand by the Spanish government.

The group said it faced "a historic opportunity to obtain a just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict."

"Eta has decided on the definitive cessation of its armed activity," the statement said.

The announcement was made in a video showing three Eta members wearing trademark Basque berets and white masks.

The group said it would campaign for its cause through peaceful means, and called on the Spanish and French governments to respond with "a process of direct dialogue".

The new Spanish government to emerge after November's general election is to take charge of any process, said former Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba - who is running on behalf of the Socialist Party in the poll.

However, Defence Minister Carme Chacon told Spanish TV on Friday that there was "nothing to negotiate with Eta".

Eta's declaration followed a conference this week in the Basque country, attended by international statesmen including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and protagonists in the Northern Ireland peace process.

They called on Eta to lay down its arms but also called for a dialogue.

'Total defeat'

In September 2010, the group announced to the BBC a decision not to carry out further attacks.

In January this year, it declared a permanent and "internationally verifiable" ceasefire.

Relatives of victims killed by Eta say the group must disband and inform the authorities of any weapons or bomb-making material.

"It is the hoped-for end, but not the desired one," Angeles Pedraza, president of a relatives' association, told the AP news agency.

"The victims want the attacks to stop, but we want them to pay for what they have done. We want the total defeat of Eta."

Spain's Socialist government has previously insisted that it will not negotiate on demands for Basque self-determination until Eta disbands.

Correspondents say the government is cautious about engaging in another peace process, after the last one failed.

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Media captionEta statement: "Eta has decided on the definitive cessation of its armed activity"

It opened contacts with Eta when the group called a "permanent" ceasefire in 2006, only to break it by bombing an airport car park in Madrid, killing two people.

But observers say this time appears to be different, in part because the group is widely considered to have been seriously weakened, by a concerted Spanish and French crackdown.

Dozens of Eta militants, including successive leaders, have been arrested and jailed, and analysts say the group realises its days are numbered.

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