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Thousands march for Basque party in Bilbao, Spain

The AP reports:

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Spain's troubled Basque region Saturday, calling for the government to legalize a new pro-independence party that says it rejects violence by armed separatist group ETA.

The Supreme Court on March 24 denied Sortu legal status and barred it from running in local elections in May, finding that the party is a repackaged version of ETA's outlawed political wing Batasuna.

Sortu can appeal to the Constitutional Court but that ruling will likely come after the May 22 elections.

Protesters carried placards saying "For the normalization of the Basque region, legalization now," and marched to Bilbao's town hall in silence.

The gathering was unusual in that Basque national flags were not visible, unlike at almost all separatist rallies. Another uncommon feature was that no one carried banners with ETA prisoners on them. Basque separatists have for decades pressed the Spanish government to allow ETA members convicted of terrorist offenses to serve their prison sentences in the Basque region instead of at jails in distant corners of the country.