Basque separatist leader dies

A socialist Basque leader who spent eight years in jail for conspiracy to murder but later renounced violence has died of cancer at the age of 55.

    Hotel damaged by ETA bombers: Onaindia rejected such violence

    Politicians from across the left-right divide paid tribute to Mario Onaindia – a former member of the armed separatist group ETA - for the twin struggles which marked his life.

    The first was against the fascist Franco dictatorship, while the second was against those within ETA who pursued violence to achieve independence for the Basque region.

    In contrast, Onaindia opted to pursue the goal through democratic means.

    Burgos trial
     
    As a youthful hardline member of the organisation, Onaindia was condemned to death at a landmark 1970 trial in the northern city of Burgos.

    Put on trial by the fascist regime then ruling Spain, Onaindia was convicted of plotting with three fellow ETA militants to kill Melinton Manzanas, head of the Francoist police in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

    All his life Onaindia struggled for 
    Basque independence


     
    Manzanas was shot dead on August 2, 1968 in the border town of Irun in the group's first recorded armed attack.

    But following an international outcry, Onaindia saw his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He served eight years in jail before heading into exile in 1977, just as Spain was in the first throes of democratic transition, Franco having died in 1975.

    Respected intellectual

    At the start of the 1980s Onaindia returned to Spain and allied himself with radicals who were opposed to gaining independence by violent means.

    He became one of the founder members of leftist party Euzkadiko Ezkerra which soon merged with the Basque Socialist Party.

    By then, Onaindia had become a respected writer and intellectual figure, having obtained a doctorate in English and Spanish literature.
     
    He spent much of the last three years of his life under the protection of a bodyguard following the assassination by ETA in February 2000 of his Socialist colleague Fernando Buesa.

    Born in the Basque city of Bilbao, he was married with two children.

    SOURCE: AFP


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