BILBAO, Spain (AP) — Tens of thousands of Basque separatist sympathizers marched in downtown Bilbao on Saturday calling for an amnesty that would allow ETA prisoners to serve out the remainder of their sentences in the northern Spanish region rather than in jails further afield.
Protesters marched to the city's town hall behind banners saying "Human rights, resolution, peace. Basque prisoners back home."
Some protesters waved Catalan flags in solidarity with another northern Spanish region with an important separatist movement. One large banner included a slogan in English, saying "Repatriate all Basque prisoners."
Spain has for more than two decades dispersed ETA prisoners under an amendment to the country's 1975 anti-terrorism law. One of the purposes of the law was to stop convicted Basque militants from communicating easily among themselves to plan subversive strategies.
"A large percentage of the Basque nation has been at this demonstration to ask the Spanish government to make a change," 58-year-old protester Maite Perez de Mendiola said.
There are an estimated 700 ETA prisoners held in jails dotted around Spain and France, and only around two dozen are believed to be in Basque region prisons.
ETA has killed 829 people since the late 1960s in bombings and shootings to force the creation of a Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France.