Spain's parliament was set to pass a law yesterday aimed at banning a Basque nationalist party, despite warnings from Basque politicians and church leaders that it could fuel ETA's bloody separatist campaign. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has won overwhelming support from lawmakers for his drive to ban Batasuna for its alleged links with the armed group ETA, and parliament's upper house looked set to approve the Political Parties Law at its second reading later on Tuesday. Despite widespread popular support for the crackdown on what the government calls the supporters of terrorism, the law has raised concern, especially in the fiercely independent northern Basque region where Batasuna wins around 10 percent of the vote. Basque bishops, figures of authority in Catholic Spain, infuriated Aznar's centre-right government last month with a warning that banning Batasuna could have “sombre consequences” by deepening civic confrontation in the Basque region, placing innocent civilians in greater danger. Basque newspapers railed on Tuesday at what they saw as central government attempts to impose undemocratic legislation. “The ban on Batasuna and the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Basques is not an isolated event,” read the editorial in the nationalist newspaper Gara. “It is part of the strategy laid out in the pact against the secessionist danger, as Aznar calls it, signed by the Socialist Party and the Popular Party in 2000,” the paper said. Nationalist newspapers and politicians alike called for a strong popular reaction against the law. “The time has come to fight for the independence of the Basque region in the streets,” said Basque Nationalist Party leader Xavier Arzalluz. The bill would empower the Supreme Court to ban any political party it considers guilty of supporting racist, xenophobic or terrorist attitudes. The government has made it plain the legislation is aimed at banning Batasuna, which it brands the political wing of ETA. Batasuna, which has changed its name several times to avoid previous banning attempts, denies it is linked to ETA. But its local councillors regularly refuse to condemn assassinations by ETA, which has killed more than 800 people since 1968. ETA resumed its attacks in January 2000 after a 14-month ceasefire when peace talks collapsed. The group exploded five bombs across Spain at the weekend, without any deaths, to call attention to its cause during a summit of EU leaders in Seville.

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