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Spain OKs Basque Rebels Crackdown

September 8, 2000

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Spain’s Cabinet approved proposals Friday to toughen laws against separatist violence and make it easier to arrest supporters of the Basque separatist group ETA.

The reforms, which now face debate in parliament, would let the judicial system try youths in adult courts when they are accused of separatist street violence. The package would also shift terrorism trials to the National Court in Madrid and away from Basque courts where judges might feel pressured to be lenient.

ETA has claimed responsibility for eight killings this summer in a wave of car bombings and shootings. Since ending a 14-month cease-fire in December, it has claimed 11 killings and been blamed for a 12th. The violence is aimed at forcing the government into negotiations for a separate Basque state in northern Spain.

Justice Minister Angel Acebes said the proposed new laws could make it a crime to possess materials to make a bomb. He said this would let police arrest someone who possessed, for example, a bottle, gasoline and a fuse even if he hadn’t made a Molotov cocktail out of the ingredients.

The draft laws also create a new type of crime, punishing anyone who publicly justifies or praises terrorists or acts of terrorism. Now, only people who publicly incite others to commit acts of terrorism are punishable by law.

Additionally, the proposals could label as ``terrorism″ certain cases of destruction of property. Separatist youths in the Basque region frequently burn buses, bank machines and state property. Acebes said they currently can only be charged with arson, not terrorism, unless they directly endanger someone’s life.

The proposal would likely lead to harsher sentences for minors.

Under current law, minors found guilty of violence deemed to be of a terrorist nature face a maximum jail term of five years. The government wants them tried as adults, which would mean they could get up to 20 years.

The draft would also prevent anyone convicted of terrorism from ever serving in public office.

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