The group has killed more than 800 people in four decades of armed struggle for independence of the Basque country, a region that has considerable autonomy within Spain.

 

The national election is currently scheduled for March 2008.
 
Vote on time
 
On Wednesday, Zapatero ruled out any early vote as he spoke at a news conference with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, saying: "The elections will he held when they are due to be held, when the four-year term ends in March."
 
The Socialist prime minister said one of his main goals now is to forge a common front against Eta with the Conservatives.
 
The latter have criticised him for negotiating with the group after it called the ceasefire in March 2006 and refusing to rule out more talks even after Eta set off a bomb at Madrid airport in December, killing two people.

Eta said on Tuesday that "the minimum conditions for continuing a process of negotiations do not exist".
 
It said the Zapatero government had responded to its ceasefire "with arrests, torture and persecution".
 
Eta said it would now be "active on all fronts to defend the Basque homeland".
 

Back to jail

 

In a related development, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's interior minister, said on Wednesday that an Eta killer who was released from prison on March 1 after a hunger strike that left him gravely ill would be sent back to jail.

 

He would not be home to serve out the rest of his prison term under police surveillance, a possibility that had initially been raised.

 

Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos has been declared healthy again and was removed on Wednesday from the hospital in the Basque city of San Sebastian where he had been recovering from a 114-day hunger strike.

 

He was taken to Aranjuez prison, just south of Madrid.

 

He has already served 18 years after being convicted in 25 deaths in a series of Eta attacks and now faces the last 14 months of a separate, three-year term for newspaper articles that were deemed to be terrorist threats.

Source: Agencies