Basques form hu­man chains to de­mand an in­de­pen­dence vote

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thou­sands of peo­ple formed hu­man chains in cities across Spain’s wealthy north­ern Basque Coun­try on Sun­day to call for the right to hold a re­gional ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence.

De­mon­stra­tors held long mul­ti­col­ored cloths as they marched through the Basque cap­i­tal Vi­to­ria, com­mer­cial hub Bil­bao and the sea­side re­sort of San Se­bas­tian, as well through Pam­plona in the neigh­bor­ing Navarra re­gion, which has a huge Basque-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Many protesters were draped in red, white and green Basque flags.

The demon­stra­tion was or­ga­nized by pro-in­de­pen­dence plat­form Gure Esku Dago (It’s in Our Hands), and was backed by sep­a­ratist par­ties as well as dozens of lo­cal sports and arts per­son­al­i­ties.

The group in June 2014 or­ga­nized a 123-kilo­me­ter (76-mile) hu­man chain across the Basque Coun­try, stretch­ing from Du­rango in the north to Pam­plona.

“More and more peo­ple be­lieve that the right to de­cide con­cerns all of us and that we have the right to de­cide our fu­ture,” the head of left-wing sep­a­ratist coali­tion Bildu, Pello Urizar, told jour­nal­ists in San Se­bas­tian.

In Bil­bao, the demon­stra­tion snaked along the Nervion river and past the city’s iconic glass and ti­ta­nium- cov­ered Guggen­heim Mu­seum, while in Pam­plona the hu­man chain linked the city’s five main squares.

The Basque Coun­try, which has its own dis­tinct lan­guage and cul­ture, has tra­di­tion­ally sought greater self-rule from Spain.

The demon­stra­tions were fol­lowed by ral­lies with live mu­sic and dance per­for­mances at the main sta­di­ums in Bil­bao and San Se­bas­tian and at Pam­plona’ bullring, one of the world’s largest.

Cam­paign­ers set up large bal­lot boxes made of cloth at the ral­lies to sym­bol­ize the vote on in­de­pen­dence from Spain that they wish to hold.

Basque public tele­vi­sion car­ried live cov­er­age of the hu­man chains and ral­lies through­out the day, while Spain’s na­tional net­works pro­vided scant cov­er­age of the events.

“In a demo­cratic so­ci­ety it is pos­i­tive and good that in­di­vidu- als and civil so­ci­ety ex­er­cise their free­dom of ex­pres­sion, assem­bly and protest to de­mand rights,” said Jose Erko­reka, spokesman for the Basque gov­ern­ment which is headed by the na­tion­al­ist PNV party.

“This is a re­flec­tion of a healthy so­ci­ety, which has con­cerns, as­pi­ra­tions and which mo­bi­lizes.”

A peace­ful Basque in­de­pen­dence move­ment has gath­ered pace in re­cent years, partly inspired by large pro-in­de­pen­dence demon­stra­tions in Catalonia, which in Novem­ber 2014 held a sym­bolic vote on in­de­pen­dence in the face of op­po­si­tion from Spain’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

The armed Basque sep­a­ratist group ETA is ac­cused of killing 829 peo­ple in a four-decade cam­paign for the in­de­pen­dence of the Basque re­gion that strad­dles the French and Span­ish bor­der.

The group, which has been weak­ened by a string of ar­rests and dwin­dling pop­u­lar sup­port for its vi­o­lent tac­tics, an­nounced an end to armed strug­gle in 2011 but has so far re­fused to dis­band or dis­arm as de­manded by the Span­ish and French gov­ern­ments.

AFP

A cam­era­man films on long multi-col­ored cloths dis­played on the pitch of the Anoeta sta­dium rep­re­sent­ing a gi­ant bal­lot box dur­ing a demon­stra­tion or­ga­nized by pro-in­de­pen­dence plat­form “Gure Esku Dago” (It’s in our hands), in San Se­bas­tian, Spain on Sun­day, June 21.

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