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Spaniards protest at European ruling benefitting ETA inmates

People hold Spanish flags and portrait of victims of terrorism as they gather to protest against a European court ruling that could lead to the release of dozens of militants, in Madrid on October 27, 2013
People hold Spanish flags and portrait of victims of terrorism as they gather to protest against a European court ruling that could lead to the release of dozens of militants, in Madrid on October 27, 2013

Thousands of Spaniards answered a call Sunday by victims of Basque armed group ETA to protest against a European court ruling that could lead to the release of dozens of militants.

Many of the demonstrators turned up in downtown Madrid, carrying the red and gold Spanish flag as a symbol of the country's unity, and enthusiastically applauded as the national anthem played.

"We are not calling for revenge today, we are fighting for justice," said Angeles Pedraza, head of the Association for Victims of Terrorism.

"Criminals must pay," said Maria Luisa Guisado, 71, who was at the protest with her husband and another retired couple. "We are not victims, thank God, but we came in support of the victims."

Carrying a poster with two photos of her son killed in an ETA attack in 1986, Hortensa Gomez, 71, said she had travelled over 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Alicante, despite being very unwell.

Antonio Quiroga, a 42-year-old from Madrid, came with his wife and three children.

"We wanted to be with the victims of terrorism," he said. "The government has to know that a lot of people are against this decision."

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on October 21 against a Spanish judicial practice that effectively reduces remission earned through prison work, allowing female ETA militant Ines Del Rio Prada to walk free.

Spaniards gather at Plaza de Colon to to protest against a European court ruling that could lead to the release of dozens of militants, in Madrid on October 27, 2013
Spaniards gather at Plaza de Colon to to protest against a European court ruling that could lead to the release of dozens of militants, in Madrid on October 27, 2013

Del Rio Prada served 26 years of a 3,828-year sentence for terrorist-related offences including 19 killings in attacks such as a 1986 Madrid car bombing that killed 12 police.

About 50 other ETA convicts are demanding their release.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called the European ruling unjust, and his party has joined in the call for protests.

But some victims feel that the government has not done enough on the issue and that the Spanish courts should not bend to the European court's decision.

"ETA guilty, government responsible," chanted one group of protesters.

"Rajoy, you have betrayed Spain. You're trampling on the victims," read one poster.

ETA, listed as a terrorist group in the United States and Europe, is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southern France.

In October 2011, the group declared a "definitive end to armed activity" but it has not formally disarmed nor disbanded as the Spanish and French governments demand.

The Spanish government refuses to negotiate with ETA, which has been severely weakened in recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in Spain and France.

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