The Basque country and Catalonia, Spain's most populous and industrialised regions, have voted on separate autonomy statutes aimed at ending 40 years of direct rule from Madrid.
The Basque country and Catalonia, Spain's most populous and industrialised regions, have voted on separate autonomy statutes aimed at ending 40 years of direct rule from Madrid. Early official returns gave votes ranging between 81 and 93 percent in favour of the autonomy measures. The turnout of about 60 percent indicated there were fewer abstentions than expected.
SYNOPSIS: A vote in favour of the autonomy statutes gives the regions their own assemblies and eventual control over most areas of local government. Here in San Sebastian in the Basque country, voting was steady although a campaign of intimidation to prevent voting was reported to have been carried out by ETA, the military branch of the separatist movement. They sought a large number of abstentions as backing for their claim to an independent Basque nation.
Many in Bilbao also obeyed the official urgings to vote on the Basque Autonomy Statute, which had been negotiated between Basque politicians and the Madrid government. There has been a campaign to encourage people to vote by post. Officials expected about ten percent of the Basque electorate of 1.5 million voters to follow this advice following reports of telephone threats and anonymous letters warning against voting.
The Basque region and Catalonia can trace their nationalist traditions back to the middle ages. Many Basques believe their ancestors were the original Spaniards who were forced into their present homeland on the French border by invading forces. They say their distinctive, non-European language, still spoken by about a quarter of the region's inhabitants, supports this claim. Home rule was last offered by the Republican government of the 1930s before it was overthrown by the late General Francisco Franco.
Now, after four decades during which Basque and Catalonian nationalism have been suppressed, the regions face the prospect of having their own assemblies, police forces, television channels and official languages.