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After truce, ETA now says it’s ready to end violence

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BILBAO, Spain – The Basque extremist group ETA said Thursday it was ready to call an end to a 43-year violent campaign for independence and said it wanted to begin talks with Spain and France – a move that could pave the way for ending Europe”s last armed militancy.

ETA had already declared a cease-fire last year – one of nearly a dozen over the years – but until now had not renounced armed struggle as a tool for achieving an independent Basque state, a key demand by the Spanish government.

The group made the latest announcement to the Basque daily Gara, which it regularly uses as a mouthpiece.

The Basque country is a small but wealthy region of northern Spain, with its own distinct culture and language. Under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who suppressed Basque culture, ETA emerged as a national liberation movement in the late 1960s.

It was most violent in the 1980s, staging hundreds of shootings of police and politicians and even occasional indiscriminate bombings of civilians.

In more recent times it has been decimated by arrests and weakening support from Basques with little stomach for terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a statement Thursday, ETA said it “has decided on the definitive end of its armed struggle. ETA calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of a direct dialogue.”