NEW WINDS BLOW in Spain's Basque country:
A new era appeared to be dawning Wednesday in the Basque region, which had sought to loosen its ties to Spain for three decades. An agreement signed by socialists and conservatives in the Basque parliament paved the way for the region of 2.1 million residents to get its first government unreservedly defending its unity with Spain.
The deal between the two parties, which are rivals on the national level, will allow for Basque socialist leader Patxi Lopez to be sworn in as prime minister in May, following the regional elections on March 1.
The region had not had a non-nationalist government since it was granted broad autonomy in 1979, four years after the death of Spain's dictator Francisco Franco.
The region beset with the violence of the militant separatist group ETA had been governed for 29 years by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which was founded on an ideology of defending Basque identity and culture.
Outgoing regional prime minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe, for instance, wanted to stage a referendum-like vote on the Basques' "right to decide" their own future in relation to Spain.