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June 5, 2007

Wikinews Shorts: June 5, 2007

Wikinews Shorts: June 5, 2007 – Wikinews, the free news source

Wikinews Shorts: June 5, 2007

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A compilation of brief news reports for Tuesday, June 5, 2007.

Moderate earthquake shakes central Greece

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A 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck near Patras and its surrounding areas in central Greece on Tuesday afternoon, just before 3 p.m. local time (1200 GMT). There were no reports of injuries or damage.

“The strong earthquake was measured at 5.3 with the epicenter on the edge of Trichonida lake, some 110 kilometres [70 miles] west of Athens,” an Athens Geodynamic Institute official said.

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Flemish Minister-President will not call Armenian massacre ‘genocide’

Yves Leterme.
Image: Kristof Persoons.

Minister-President of Flanders Yves Leterme in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Zaman showed a hesitation to call the Armenian Genocide a genocide.

“Before a politician can judge if something is a genocide, the international institutions must speak out about it. …As a politician it is not wise to speak about a genocide until experts have judged it. I don’t stand alone with my view and I have nothing to add to this,” Leterme said.

The matter of the so-called Armenian Genocide lies very sensitive with some Belgian voters of Turkish descent. The situation reminds of the Dutch elections, when Wouter Bos from the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) refused to speak of an “Armenian genocide”. The polls project that Leterme’s party CD&V is to become the biggest political party of Flanders in the upcoming federal elections in Belgium next Sunday.

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Mudslide buries Valley of Geysers

A satellite view of the Kronotsky volcano.

Russia’s Valley of Geysers, Eurasia’s only geyser field and the second largest concentration of geysers in the world, was largely destroyed by a mudslide on Sunday.

Millions of cubic meters of mud and rocks fell into the 6-kilometre-long basin, wiping out about two-thirds of the valley, which contains around 90 geysers and many hot springs. Located in the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, the valley wasn’t discovered until 1941, and had only opened to foreign tourists in 1991.

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Back to the wild for pygmy kangaroos

A Red-Necked Pademelon, which is similar to the Dusky Pademelon.
Image: Gaz.

Indonesia’s foresty ministry said Tuesday it will release 17 endangered Dusky Pademelons into the wild in the remote Papua province on New Guinea.

Also known as pygmy kangaroos (similar Red-Necked Pademelon pictured), the animals have been rescued over time from illegal animal traders and from people’s homes, where the little kangaroos were kept as pets. The species, Latin name Thylogale brunii, belongs to a family of seven kangaroo-like mammals that are found in forests of Papua, Western New Guinea and Papua New Guinea.

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U.S. Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming dies at age 74

U.S. Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming dies at age 74

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Senator Craig Thomas.

U.S. Senator from Wyoming Craig L. Thomas (R), 74, has died of acute myeloid leukemia at the National Naval Medical Center located in Bethesda, Maryland. He died just hours after doctors had said that his chemotherapy was no longer having an effect on the cancer.

“At this difficult time, all we can do is give him as much love and support as possible,” said his wife Susan in a statement released by the Senator’s office.

“Wyoming had no greater advocate, taxpayers had no greater watchdog, and rural America had no greater defender than Craig Thomas. The Senate is a lesser place without Craig here, but the state of Wyoming and our nation are much better places because he was here,” said Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader in a statement to the press.

Thomas won his Senate seat in 2006 with 70% of the voters supporting him, despite canceling the last half of his campaign trail due to medical issues. He announced his condition just two days after the election. He began to receive chemotherapy after winning the election and returned to work in December, a month before he was scheduled to do so.

Thomas, who supported domestic energy and minerals production, helped to federal money to be spent on building a coal gasification plant in the state to keep jobs there, rather than overseas.

“[Thomas] is a very big loss to the people of this state. He carried the values that we treasure in Wyoming to Washington and had many successes,” said Wyoming state Governor Dave Freudenthal.

While Freudenthal is a Democrat and will be selecting a replacement for Thomas, the seat is not likely to shift party hands since Freudenthal must select one of three candidates offered by the Republican state central committee.

Thomas was serving his third 6 year term in the Senate.

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U.S. President Bush responds to Russian criticism

U.S. President Bush responds to Russian criticism

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

President Bush and President Putin sign the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in 2002.

Just one day before the G8 summit, a battle in the media between Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President George W. Bush continued as President Bush criticized Russia for “derailing” its promised democratic reforms.

In a speech from the Czech Republic, where he plans to implement a missile defense system, Bush said: “In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.” He also described the relationship with Russia as complex, a major difference from just five years ago when Bush and Putin had pet names for each other.

President Bush also criticized China in this speech, saying that “[China’s leaders] believe that they can continue to open the nation’s economy without also opening its political system”.

“Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements, so the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values,” Bush said of Russia.

Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia “cannot agree on his declaration about the derailing of democratic reforms”, adding that “Russia is a democratic country that shares common world and common European values.”

Bush stated that Russia is not an enemy and that “the Cold War is over.”

In the speech, which was given at a conference on democracy sponsored by The Prague Security Studies Institute, Bush also listed Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria as the “worst dictatorships” and criticised Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Vietnam for rolling back earlier “freedom”.

President Bush is scheduled to meet with President Putin at the G8 conference which begins tomorrow.

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U.S. Congressman William Jefferson faces 16-count indictment for corruption

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U.S. Congressman William Jefferson faces 16-count indictment for corruption

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

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Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district.

In a press release Monday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) detailed a federal grand jury indictment against Congressman William Jefferson on charges that included bribery, racketeering, and money laundering, among others.

The grand jury out of Alexandria, Virginia, charged Jefferson specifically with “solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, racketeering, and conspiracy.” The indictment stems from corruption that is alleged to have taken place between August 2000 and August 2005.

Representative Jefferson, 63, a Democrat from Louisiana, is alleged to have “used his position and his office to corruptly seek, solicit and direct that things of value be paid to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for his performance of official acts to advance the interests of people and businesses who offered him the bribes.” Jefferson has represented Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district since 1991.

The FBI was involved in the investigation, which culminated in a raid on Representative Jefferson’s congressional office in May, 2006. “The FBI has made combating public corruption its top criminal investigative priority because American citizens deserve honest and ethical public officials representing their interest,” said Kenneth W. Kaiser, Assistant Director, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “As it is alleged, Congressman Jefferson violated the public’s trust and used his official position and office as a RICO enterprise to corruptly solicit bribes, to pay off a foreign official, and to illegally benefit from overseas business transactions during a five-year period.”

A complex series of transactions was alleged to have taken place, involving Jefferson and at least two other co-conspirators. Along with Jefferson, Vernon L. Jackson, a Louisville, Kentucky businessman, and Brett M. Pfeffer, a former Jefferson congressional staff member, “allegedly discussed and solicited bribes in return for being influenced in the performance of certain official acts, including receiving things of value from iGate [Inc.], Jackson’s company.”

Jackson plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and the payment of bribes to a public official, and was sentenced to 87 months in prison. Pfeffer plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a member of Congress, and was sentenced to 96 months in prison.

Also detailed in the indictment, Jefferson allegedly offered payments to a foreign official to further his own business interest as well as that of his family. Jefferson was allegedly responsible for “negotiating, offering and delivering payments of bribes” to Nigerian officials. In an August 2005 raid on Jefferson’s home in Washington, D.C., law enforcement officials found US$90,000 cash from an undercover operation in his freezer. The cash had been wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden inside frozen food containers.

Representative Jefferson has not responded directly to the indictment, but his lawyer, Robert Trout, stated that his client was innocent and would “fight this indictment and clear his name.” Acknowledging the comprehensive investigation carried out against his client, as detailed in the 94-page indictment, Trout pointed out that legislative action was not involved. “There is no suggestion that he promised anyone any appropriations,” said Trout. “There were no earmarks. There were no government contracts.”

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi expressed some concern over the allegations. “The charges in the indictment against Congressman Jefferson are extremely serious,” said Pelosi. “While Mr. Jefferson, just as any other citizen, must be considered innocent until proven guilty, if these charges are proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power.”

If found guilty of the charges ultimately, Representative Jefferson faces a maximum sentence of 235 years.

Related news

  • “U.S. watchdog group lists “most corrupt members of Congress”” — Wikinews, October 7, 2005

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Thai junta partially lifts political ban

Thai junta partially lifts political ban

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

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Political parties in Thailand have regained some of their freedoms, following an agreement on Tuesday by the government’s military-appointed Cabinet.

As a result of the deal, parties are now allowed to meet and hold activities, opening the way for elections that are tentatively planned for December. However, a ban on forming new political parties remains in effect, until at least next week. Government spokesman Nattawat Suthiyothin said a bill on new parties would be forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly. And the Cabinet says that the ban on leaders of dissolved political parties remains in effect.

Political gatherings and activities had been banned by the junta since the military’s overthrow of the civilian government in September of last year. But in the face of recent protests, the military’s ruling body, the Council for National Security, agreed on Monday to recommend that political activities be allowed.

The move by the Cabinet comes six days after a Constitutional Tribunal in which the former ruling party, Thai Rak Thai was ordered dissolved and its leaders, including ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra banned from politics for five years. Thai Rak Thai was found guilty of violations in the April 2006 general election. Another prominent party, the opposition Democrat Party, was also on trial, but was allowed to remain intact.

Though the junta has outlawed political gatherings, demonstrations have still been tolerated in Bangkok. One of the largest came on Saturday, when 6,000 supporters of a satellite television station, PTV, held a rally. The pro-Thaksin PTV has been taken off the air by the junta, as have several pro-Thaksin websites. The junta also ordered that text messages be sent to mobile-phone subscribers, asking them to stay away from demonstrations.

But the junta has shown signs of moving the nation back towards the democratic process, with the leader of the coup, Council for National Security chairman General Sonthi Boonyaratglin suggesting an amnesty for the banned political leaders. The idea was widely criticized, though, and Sonthi later retracted his statement, saying the amnesty notion had been proposed by the National Legislative Assembly.



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Ten charged with plot to overthrow Laos government

Ten charged with plot to overthrow Laos government

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Laos
Other stories from Laos
  • 28 December 2009: Thailand begins repatriation of Hmong migrants to Laos
  • 9 August 2009: Wikinews Shorts: August 9, 2009
  • 20 June 2007: Suspect in Laos plot detained in Thailand; suspects plead not guilty in California
  • 15 June 2007: 11th suspect arrested in Laos overthrow plot; indictments handed down
  • 12 June 2007: Bail denied in Laos overthrow plot, Hmong protest
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Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.
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Ten people, including former Royal Lao Army general Vang Pao, 77, and a former United States Army officer Harrison Jack, 60, were arrested Monday in six different cities in California, USA after authorities with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), uncovered a plot to bring down the government of Laos.

Suspects were arrested in Chico, Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Stockton and Woodland.

The plot, said prosecutors, involved obtaining C-4 explosives, AK-47 rifles, rockets, land mines and Stinger missiles, which were to be shipped to Thailand, and then used to take down the main branch of the Laotian government by blowing up the government’s main buildings in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

The bombs would be deployed using “special operation mercenaries,” but undercover agents working with the ATF foiled the plot when the suspects were tricked into buying the weapons and supplies they needed from the undercover agents. The government’s investigation was dubbed “Operation Tarnished Eagle”.

“These defendants had developed an audacious plan to overthrow the government of Laos, and were seeking to arm themselves with automatic rifles, rockets and surface-to-air missiles,” said the assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, Kenneth Wainstein in a statement to the press.

“The individuals arrested today thought an arms dealer would provide the necessary weapons and personnel to assist them in the violent overthrow of another government. An undercover ATF agent led them to believe he could fulfill their needs,” said acting ATF director Michael Sullivan in a statement to the press.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the plot was put together by a Lao liberation movement known as Neo Hom, led in the U.S. by Vang Pao, and had conducted extensive fund-raising activities, surveillance operations and an insurgent force within Laos.

Vang Pao led Hmong forces backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency against the communist Pathet Lao in the “Secret War” in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. He served in the Royal Army of Laos, holding the rank of major general. After the fall of Laos to the communists in 1975, Vang Pao immigrated to the U.S., where he is a folk hero among Laotian refugees. There were plans to name an elementary school after him in Wisconsin, which is home to many Hmong people.

Map of Laos showing the capital, Vientiane.

Another man named in the charges, Jack, is a former California National Guard lieutenant colonel and a 1968 West Point graduate. He was involved in covert operations during the Vietnam War. Jack acted as an arms broker and organizer of the plot, according to the criminal complaint.

Most of the remaining suspects had fought in Laos with Vang Pao, the complaint said. Among those named in the complaint are seven prominent members of the Hmong community in California’s Central Valley. They are:

  • Lo Cha Thao, 34, of Clovis in Fresno County. Had worked as an aide to a former Wisconsin state senator.
  • Lo Thao, 53, of Sacramento County, president of United Hmong International (also known as the Supreme Council of the Hmong 18 Clans).
  • Youa True Vang, 60, of Fresno, founder of Fresno’s Hmong International New Year.
  • Hue Vang, 39, of Fresno, a former Clovis police officer. Director of United Lao Council for Peace, Freedom, and Reconstruction.
  • Chong Yang Thao, 53, a Fresno chiropractor.
  • Seng Vue, 68, of Fresno, member of United Hmong International.
  • Chue Lo, 59, of Stockton, member of United Hmong International.

A tenth person arrested, but not yet charged, was Nhia Kao Vang of Rancho Cordova, California.

Laotian and Thai reaction

The Laotian government welcomed the arrests. “We praise the U.S. government as the group committed wrong doing against the Laos government which has good relations with the US,” said Yong Chanthalangsy, Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Thailand, which was to be used as a transit country for the arms, said it would investigate the plot as well. “Thailand has a clear policy not to allow any party to use our territory as a lunching pad against our neighbors,” said Tharit Charungvat, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman.

In the past year, Thailand has had to deal with a stream of Hmong refugees, and has been forcibly repatriating them to Laos. Many of the refugees said they were associates of Secret War veterans and were fleeing from persecution. They hoped to follow other Hmong refugees to the West.

Laos spokesman Yong said the Hmong in Thailand were not fighters but victims of human traffickers, and that dissident groups had been long ago been suppressed in Laos. “The arrest of Vang Pao and his group might not have direct impact to Laos as we have nothing to do with them, but it would be a good news for Hmong minorities since the traffickers would have no excuse to lure them to Thailand to seek resettlement in the U.S. with Vang Pao,” Yong said.

On Monday, Thai and Laotian officials met in Bangkok to discuss border security issues, and the two countries agreed to deport the Hmong in Thailand to Laos, Yong said.

Both Laos and Vietnam remain under communist governments. In 2005, the U.S. normalized trade agreements with Laos.

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Scooter Libby gets 30 months in Plame case

Scooter Libby gets 30 months in Plame case

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Scooter Libby.jpg

Today, Tuesday, United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton, presiding at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., sentenced I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to 30 months in prison. He also fined Libby US$250,000.

Judge Walton chose not to delay the sentencing of Libby until an appeal sought by the defendant has a chance to be heard. Libby was convicted in March of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators after he was found guilty by a jury of lying in the Plame affair investigation in which Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative was leaked to the press. The Libby defense team is preparing an appeal to that conviction that may be ready by December this year.

Both defendant Libby and U.S. prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald left the court with no comments to reporters. Libby was not remanded to prison immediately. Judge Walton indicated that the court would receive briefs from both plaintiffs and defendant before ruling on when jail time would commence.

Libby’s defense team submitted a sentencing memo to Judge Walton on Thursday last week. The memo asked for leniency and a “downward departure” in the court’s ruling that could impose jail time on Libby. The memo urged the court to consider “the more than 160 heartfelt letters” submitted on Libby’s behalf. It also urged the court to consider Libby’s extraordinary commitment to public service. “The fundamental command that the sentence be sufficient, but not greater than necessary to serve the purposes of punishment, makes clear that a sentence of probation is warranted here,” according to the memo.

Cquote1.svg The Probation Office calculated the applicable [sentencing] Guidelines at 15 – 21 months and identified several grounds for downward departure from that range. Cquote2.svg

—Lawyers for Libby’s defense

Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald called Libby unrepentant and unremorseful at the trial’s sentencing hearing on May 25. Fitzgerald asked the federal judge to sentence Libby to 30 – 37 months in jail.

Norman Pearlstine, former editor in chief of TIME magazine, wrote in the week before the sentencing that: “Fitzgerald convinced the jury that Libby lied when he denied telling Cooper and Miller about Plame and when he said he had first learned of Plame’s identity from Russert, instead of from Cheney.” Pearlstine referred to journalists Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, and Tim Russert. Dick Cheney is the vice-president of the United States. Libby resigned as the vice-president’s chief of staff after he was indicted in the ensuing investigation over the exposure of a CIA operative’s identity.

Earlier there was speculation that President Bush might pardon Libby. Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told the press aboard Air Force One on the way to the G8 summit in Rostock, Germany, that Bush “…does feel terrible for them [Libby and his family], he thinks they’re going through a lot right now, they’ve been through a lot. But given the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way that the President has handled this for the past year or so, he’s not going to intervene.”

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Eleven killed in train crash in northern Victoria, Australia

Eleven killed in train crash in northern Victoria, Australia

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

File:Swan Hill3.jpg

Swan Hill station on the Swan Hill railway line.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Eleven people have been killed, and more than 20 injured, when a V/Line passenger train and a semi trailer collided at a level crossing on the Murray Valley Highway in northern Victoria, Australia. At least 13 more are still missing and are believed to be trapped in the wreckage.

The collision, which occurred at 1:40 p.m. local time, was approximately 10 km north of the town of Kerang, on the Swan Hill railway line.

The train involved in the accident was a service from Swan Hill, which departed at 1:00 p.m. from Swan Hill railway station, and was destined for Melbourne. The train was comprised of a locomotive and three carriages.

Witness reports say that the semi-trailer collided into the second of the three carriages, and then detached the third carriage from the remainder of the train and causing it to derail. The whole side of the second carriage was ripped open from the direct impact of the semi-trailer.

A map of the crash site.

The injured have been transferred from the scene to hospitals in the area, including Kerang and Mildura, by ambulance. Helicopters and light aircraft have been used to transfer patients to Melbourne, as local hospitals struggle with the sudden influx of patients. The driver of the semi-trailer has been moved to the hospital in Mildura in “critical condition”, according to police at the scene.

The train had 39 people on board the 1:00 p.m. service, according to train documents. This included three staff employed by the train operator V/Line, who have all been accounted for and are not injured. Of the 36 passengers on the train, it has been reported that 23 have suffered injuries.

Reports say six people were airlifted to Melbourne for treatment, however one has since died. The remaining 17 have been moved to regional hospitals, including the temporary relief centre in Kerang, according to a Rural Ambulance Service spokesperson.

Although there are still 13 people unaccounted for, police say it is possible that some had bought tickets and were therefore listed on the train manifest, but did not end up catching the service.

Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks is expected to fly to the crash scene this evening. He has ordered a full investigation into the incident. Federal Minister for Transport Mark Vaile has offered Federal government assistance from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to help with the investigation. The Prime Minister John Howard has offered the Victorian government any additional aid that is requires in the aftermath of this incident.


Exquisite-Modem.png
Train operator V/Line have set up an emergency hotline to assist relatives and friends of those on the train receive information. The number is 1800 800 120.



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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Kerang train crash

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ETA ends year-long cease-fire with Spain

ETA ends year-long cease-fire with Spain

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

ETA incidents
Location of Basque Country, an autonomous community in Spain.
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Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA, is a Basque nationalist paramilitary organization active in Spain and France. The organization’s goal is sovereignty for Basque Country and it uses both political and violent means to further its cause.

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Basque separatist group ETA will end their cease-fire as of June 6, the group said in a communique released in Basque newspaper Berria on Tuesday.

“The minimum conditions for continuing a process of negotiations do not exist,” ETA said, adding that the Spanish government of Prime Minister Zapatero responded to its cease-fire “with arrests, torture and persecution.”

Zapatero condemned ETA’s move. “ETA’s decision goes totally in the opposite direction of the path that Basque and Spanish society want, the path of peace,” he said.

ETA declared a cease-fire in March 2006 and had insisted that it still held despite killing two people with a bomb in Madrid airport late in December. ETA had warned about the attack but the two victims were not evacuated. In a series of communiques before its last fatal attack in December, ETA had complained of a lack of progress in the talks with the government and police pressure on its supporters. The atmosphere was further soured by the authorities with exclusion of pro-independence politicians from local elections in the Basque country last month. ETA’s supposed political wing, Batasuna, remains banned.

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