|The homepage of Basque newspaper Gara with the announcement of the end to 50 years of armed struggle [Reuters]
Basque separatists ETA have called an end to its decades-long armed struggle, according to a statement published by the group in Basque language newspaper Gara.
Thursday's announcement followed a peace conference in the Basque country on Monday at which international leaders and former politicians appealed to ETA to end its fight to carve out an independent Basque homeland from parts of southern France and northern Spain.
"ETA has decided the definitive cease of its armed activity. ETA calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the conflict," it said in a statement.
In a televised address, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister, said the move was a "victory for democracy".
"With the restraint that history imposes on us, we are today living legitimate satisfaction over the victory of democracy, law and reason," Zapatero said in the brief appearance before reporters.
"It is a satisfaction in mourning for the pain caused by violence that should never have happened and that should never happen again," he added.
"Ours will be a democracy without terrorism, but not a democracy without memory. The memory of the victims, of each of the 829 deadly victims and their families, that of so many injured that bore the unfair and abhorrent blow of terror, will be with us and with future generations of Spaniards forever."
Some mainstream Spanish politicians and press had poured scorn on both Monday's peace conference and the conclusions it reached, with most Spanish newspapers denouncing it as a ruse by ETA's banned political wing to attract international attention and strengthen its hand in possible future negotiations.
ETA called a "permanent and general ceasefire" in January and said that it could be verified by the international community.
The group has been under pressure from ex-members of their political wing and ETA prisoners to definitively lay down arms, although it did not give any details of a possible decommissioning of arms in its statement.
More than 850 people have been killed since ETA launched its armed campaign in the late 1960s.