Sunday, February 06, 2005

Almost two-thirds of Spaniards believe the government should go to the courts to stop a referendum on near-independence for the Basque country, according to a poll.

And if Basque premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe went ahead with his plan for a referendum even after it was declared illegal by the courts, more than half of Spaniards think the state should prevent it, by using the security forces if necessary, it said on Sunday.

The Spanish parliament overwhelmingly rejected last week Ibarretxe's plan for Basque "free association" with Spain.

In response, Ibarretxe called early regional elections for April 17 and vowed that if he won, he would call a referendum on his proposal for the northern region, which has seen decades of separatist violence.

A referendum without the blessing of the Spanish parliament would be a major affront to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist government has sought dialogue with the Basques.

[...] The number of Spaniards supporting these options had climbed sharply in the past month, El Mundo [the newspaper that published the poll -- F.A.] said.

[...] Under pressure from the opposition Popular Party to take a tougher line on the Basques, Zapatero has to tread a delicate line to avoid alienating regional allies in wealthy Catalonia who are also demanding more autonomy from Madrid.

Zapatero's Socialists lack a majority in the national parliament and depend on regional parties to get their legislation through.