Huge march in Spain after ban on Eta prisoner rally

Marchers in Bilbao, northern Spain, 11 January The march followed a ban on a rally

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At least 100,000 people have marched through the northern Spanish city of Bilbao after a rally in support of jailed Basque militants was banned.

Permission had been granted only for a silent march but some demonstrators shouted slogans in support of the Basque separatist group Eta.

Victims of Eta violence said the march made a mockery of their suffering.

Late last year, Spain's high court ordered the release from prison of several Eta members.

It was acting on a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which found Spain had acted illegally when it retroactively applied legislation that stopped them being eligible for early release.

Many of the prisoners had been convicted of murder.

Eta declared an end to its armed campaign in 2011 after being blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people over four decades.

However, successive governments in Madrid have refused to negotiate with the group.

'A double sentence'
Marchers in Bilbao, northern Spain, 11 January Political parties, trade unions and social groups joined the march

Between 100,000 and 110,000 people joined Saturday's march, sources in the city told Spain's Efe news agency.

Billed as a march for "human rights, understanding and peace", it was organised by Basque nationalist and separatist political parties after a judge banned a rally calling for Eta inmates to be moved closer to their families.

A prisoner group had dropped its demand for a general amnesty last month in an apparent bid to engage the governments in Spain and France, which also has a significant Basque region.

One marcher, 52-year-old Itziar Goienetxia, told AFP news agency she lived in the Basque country and had to travel 1,200km (746 miles) to visit her husband in jail in the southern city of Cadiz.

"It's a double sentence," she said.

The victims' association AVT had applied in vain to have the march banned, saying it gave "grave offence to each and every victim of terrorism".

"The only aim of the initiative is to pay homage to prisoners of the terrorist group Eta," it argued.

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