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Spain vote backs talks with ETA

MADRID -- Spanish lawmakers yesterday endorsed a government proposal to hold talks with the armed Basque separatist group ETA if it renounces violence, the latest effort to end the group's decades-long campaign for independence that has killed hundreds of people.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's request for parliamentary approval was unprecedented, reflecting his desire for a mandate to move ahead with the first talks with ETA since 1999.

Zapatero has insisted that his proposal for negotiations would rule out concessions toward ETA's goal of Basque independence and focus only on terms for its dissolution and the status of more than 500 ETA prisoners. The proposal was approved 192-147, with members of the opposition Popular Party casting the no votes.

The Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, calls Zapatero's proposal a premature gesture to a terrorist group that detonated four small bombs over the weekend. Rajoy says Zapatero's overture amounts to the ''surrender of Parliament" to ETA because the group has not renounced violence or declared a cease-fire, and Zapatero should keep pressuring ETA through police measures.

''We don't understand the why or wherefore of this proposal," Eduardo Zaplana, the Popular Party's parliamentary spokesman, told the chamber. ''We don't see why the government must be the interpreter for a supposed willingness to abandon terrorism, which ETA refutes with its constant crimes."

Yesterday's vote is politically potent and could be the death knell for an antiterrorism cooperation pact by which the Socialists and the Popular Party have abided for several years. It also was further evidence of the increasing isolation of the Popular Party since it lost elections in March 2004 after an eight-year run in office.

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