[JURIST] A Spanish court on Thursday began the trial of three Basque leaders accused of meeting illegally with members of the Batasuna party to negotiate a ceasefire with the illegal Basque separatist group ETA [BBC backgrounders]. Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe [official profile] and two senior members of the Basque branch of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's party met with Batasuna party members in July and April 2006 and in January 2007. They were charged [JURIST report] in connection with the meetings in October 2007. The trial will proceed despite prosecutors' calls for the charges to be dropped, and the men are not expected to be convicted. Ibarretxe has said that he welcomes the trial as an opportunity to prove his innocence [El Pais report, in Spanish].
The Batasuna party is alleged to be a front for ETA, which has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in bombings and attacks since the 1960s. Spain's Supreme Court declared Batasuna illegal [Independent report] in 2003. In September, the court banned [JURIST report] the Basque Nationalist Action Party (ANV) from taking part in political activities because of its alleged ties to Batasuna.