A French appeals court on Wednesday sentenced former Basque separatist leader, Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, to seven years in prison for association with a terrorist organization. Urrutikoetxea is a former member of the Basque regional parliament and led the ETA [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] until 2006. He was convicted and sentenced in absentia [UPI report] by the court after his fingerprints were found in ETA apartments and on a vehicle in France. Urrutikoetxea was sentenced to five years [RFI report] in his original trial. The appeals court maintained the warrant for his arrest, and he is to be detained upon entering any French territory.
Recent news reports form Spain have stated that Urrutikoetxea is seeking to regain his leadership in the ETA in the upcoming weeks. He has stated that he is willing to talk with Spanish authorities and has been in communication with Arnaldo Otegi, a former leader of Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the political wing of ETA. In March, the Spanish National Court [official website, in Spanish] sentenced [JURIST report] Otegi to two years in prison for promoting terrorism. The court held that comments made by Ortegi in a 2005 speech praised the terrorist acts committed by other ETA members. Otegi compared his imprisoned associates to South African leader Nelson Mandela [ANC backgrounder]. The court criticized the comparison because, unlike the ETA, which is blamed for more than 800 deaths, Mandela was nonviolent. The court also disqualified Otegi from holding public office for 16 years. Otegi faces additional charges that could result in up to 30 years in prison.