AFTER serving six and a half years in prison, Arnaldo Otegi, former Basque leader and member of Eta, the armed separatist group, has been released.
Otegi, 57, is often credited with helping put an end to the violence in the northern provinces of Spain. Upon his release he vowed to keep pushing for peace.
About 200 supporters were there to greet the controversial figure. Supporters waved the Basque flag of red, white and green.
His release from prison in the northern city of Logroño came after his serving six and a half years for his plans at re-establishing Batasuna – an illegal separatist party.
At his release, Otegi said: “Some say there are no political prisoners in the Spanish state. But there would not be so many media here today if it wasn’t for the fact that today a political prisoner left a Spanish jail,”
“Peace is the path to follow and it is what I propose to do with you,” whilst his supporters chanted “Independence!”
Otegi has been described as a “European Nelson Mandela” by some whilst to others he is a hate figure, especially relatives of Eta victims.
The Association of Victims of Terrorism tweeted that it felt “indignation” at the sight of “an Eta terrorist being given a hero’s welcome”.
Upon his release, Otegi pointed to Catalonia as an inspiration where separatist movements have been gaining momentum after a regional election in September.
He continued: “They are giving us a real lesson on what must be done and I thank them.
“There is still a long way to go and it is not going to be easy. Now it is time to win and create the conditions that make co-existence, peace, but also freedom and equality, possible.”
Eta killed over 820 people in bombings and shootings over its ´fight´ to create an independent Basque region in northern Spain and in 2003 Batasuna was banned as a political party due to its clear link with Eta.
Otegi, who has been jailed before, now totalling 15 years, told the New York Times, he plans to run for leader of the Basque Country although as a recently released convict he might find this difficult until 2022 when restrictions would be lifted.