The human rights group Amnesty International warned yesterday that Spain risked “undermining fundamental freedoms” by banning demonstrations in favour of Basque pro-independence party Batasuna. High Court judge Baltasar Garzon has suspended all Batasuna operations for three years, alleging it is part of the armed group ETA, which is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its long campaign for Basque independence. Batasuna denies it is ETA's political wing. Garzon has also banned any demonstrations to protest against his decision. Meanwhile the Spanish government has asked the courts to ban Batasuna altogether. However, a pro-Batasuna protest is due to be held in the northern Basque city of Bilbao at the weekend. “Ahead of Saturday's demonstration in support of the suspended grouping Batasuna in Bilbao, Amnesty International urged the Spanish and Basque authorities to ensure that fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest are not undermined by recent legal moves that appear to prohibit such protests,” the group said in a statement. Amnesty International said it recognises Spain's right to ensure safety and that it has “repeatedly and unequivocally condemned ETA's continuing campaign of killings of civilians”. “However, ETA's abuses must not be used to justify undermining fundamental freedoms,” Amnesty International said. Authorities in Spain's largely-autonomous Basque region have until Thursday afternoon to decided whether to allow Saturday's protest in Bilbao. The Basque government banned similar protests last weekend, citing concerns over violence. But even if the Basque government approves the march, Garzon could attempt to prohibit it, as he did for a similar pro-Batasuna march in the Navarre region last Friday. Spain's National Police broke up that small protest once it started. However, Basque police relented when about 1'000 pro-Batasuna demonstrators defied the local government's ban and took to the streets of San Sebastian last Sunday. Basque regional premiere Juan Jose Ibarretxe said he supported the police decision to back off because breaking up the march would have required physical violence. Leaders of Spain's ruling Popular Party (PP) were outraged, saying the Basque government does little to ensure freedoms for hundreds of PP politicians who live under threats from ETA and require 24-hour bodyguards.

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