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Basque militants #ETA surrender arms in end to decades of conflict

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Basque militant group ETA effectively ended an armed separatist campaign after almost half a century on Saturday, leading French authorities to the sites where it says its caches of weapons, explosives and ammunition are hidden, writes Claude Canellas, Sonya Dowsett and Isla Binnie.

ETA, which killed more than 850 people in its attempt to carve out an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France, declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm.

Founded in 1959 out of anger among Basques at political and cultural repression under General Francisco Franco, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and Freedom) gained notoriety as one of Europe's most intractable separatist groups.

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The Spanish government said ETA's handover of weapons in the French city of Bayonne was positive but insufficient and called on the group to formally dissolve and apologize to its victims.

ETA's disarmament ends an era of political violence in Western Europe, but comes as nationalism is stirring across the continent, with Scotland and the Spanish region of Catalonia seeking independence referendums, while Sinn Fein has urged a vote on taking Northern Ireland out of Britain.

ETA said in a letter to the BBC earlier this week it had handed over its weapons and explosives to civilian go-betweens who would deliver them to authorities.

The mediators - known as "The Artisans of Peace" - passed authorities a list with the coordinates for eight sites where ETA had stored its weapons arsenal, their representative, Michel Tubiana, told reporters in Bayonne.

The caches contain 120 firearms, about 3 tonnes of explosives and several thousand rounds of ammunition, he said.

Security forces were now searching the sites to neutralize the explosives and secure the weapons, French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said at a news conference in Paris. Police were photographed carrying out bags from sites around Bayonne.

A Spanish government source said Madrid did not believe the group would hand over all its arms, while Spain's state prosecutor has asked the High Court to examine those surrendered as possible murder weapons used in hundreds of unresolved cases.

ETA's disarmament entailed no impunity for their crimes and they should not expect any favorable treatment, the government said in a statement.

"The actions carried out today by the terrorist group are nothing more than the result of their definitive defeat," Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told reporters in Madrid.

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Basque pro-independence party EH Bildu who has served time in jail for his links with ETA, said in Bayonne that it was a day that would be welcomed by the great majority of Basques, although work was not finished.

"From today we will put on the table all the problems we still have as a society and a nation," he said, adding that the biggest issues were the around 300 ETA members still in Spanish and French prisons and the group's victims.

ETA's first known victim was a secret police chief in San Sebastian in 1968 and its last a French policemen shot in 2010.

It chose not to disarm when it called its truce, but has been weakened in the past decade after hundreds of its members were arrested and weapons seized in joint Spanish and French operations.

Popular revulsion at the scale of violent attacks carried out by Islamic militants had also played a part, Paddy Woodworth, who has written in depth about ETA, said.

The group's first revolutionary gesture was to fly the banned 'ikurrina', the red and green Basque flag, before the campaign escalated in the 1960s into violence that was brutally reciprocated by the Franco regime.

In 1973, ETA targeted Franco's heir apparent Luis Carrero Blanco by digging a tunnel under the road that he drove down daily to attend Mass. They packed the tunnel with explosives and blasted Blanco's car over a five-storey building.

The assassination changed the course of Spanish history, as the removal of Franco's successor led to the exiled king reclaiming the throne and a shift to a constitutional monarchy.

Attacks including a 1987 car bomb at a Barcelona supermarket, which killed 21 including a pregnant woman and two children, horrified Spaniards and drew international outrage.

Gorka Landaburu, who lost his thumb and was left blind in one eye after an ETA letter bomb detonated in his home in 2001, welcomed the disarmament and said lessons had been learned.

"This must never happen again in our country," he said, standing by the sea in the Basque resort of San Sebastian. "I hope no one ever picks up pistols and bombs to defend an ideology ever again."

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Cyber Security

Cybersecurity: All EU member states commit to build a quantum communication infrastructure

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With the latest signature by Ireland of the political declaration to boost European capabilities in quantum technologies, cybersecurity and industrial competitiveness, all Member States have now committed to work together, along with the European Commission and the European Space Agency, to build the EuroQCI, a secure quantum communication infrastructure that will span the whole EU. Such high-performing, secure communications networks will be essential to meeting Europe's cybersecurity needs in the years to come. A Europe fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “I am very happy to see all EU Member States come together to sign the EuroQCI declaration – European Quantum Communication infrastructure initiative - a very solid basis for Europe's plans to become a major player in quantum communications. As such, I encourage them all to be ambitious in their activities, as strong national networks will be the foundation of the EuroQCI.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “As we have recently seen, cybersecurity is more than ever a crucial component of our digital sovereignty. I am very pleased to see that all member states are now part of the EuroQCI initiative, a key component of our forthcoming secure connectivity initiative, which will allow all Europeans to have access to protected, reliable communication services.”

The EuroQCI will be part of a wider Commission action to launch a satellite-based secure connectivity system that will make high-speed broadband available everywhere in Europe. This plan will provide reliable, cost-effective connectivity services with enhanced digital security. As such, the EuroQCI will complement existing communication infrastructures with an additional layer of security based on the principles of quantum mechanics – for example, by providing services based on quantum key distribution, a highly secure form of encryption. You can find more information here.

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Moscow

NATO vs Russia: Dangerous games

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It seems that the Black Sea has recently become more and more an arena of confrontation between NATO and Russia. Another confirmation of this was the large-scale military exercises Sea Breeze 2021, which were recently completed in the region, which Ukraine hosted, writes Alexi Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

The Sea Breeze — 2021 exercises are the most representative in the entire history of their holding. They were attended by 32 countries, about 5,000 military personnel, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, 18 groups of ground and sea special forces from Ukraine, as well as NATO member and partner countries, including the United States.

The main venue for the exercises was Ukraine, which, for obvious reasons, considers this event as a military and partly political support for its sovereignty, primarily in view of the loss of Crimea and the military—political impasse in the Donbas. In addition, Kiev hopes that hosting such a large-scale event will contribute to the speedy integration of Ukraine into the Alliance.

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A few years ago, the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation was a regular participant in this series of maneuvers. Then they worked out mainly humanitarian tasks, as well as interaction between the fleets of different states.

In recent years, the scenario of the exercises has changed significantly. Russian ships are no longer invited to them, and the development of actions to ensure air and anti — submarine defense and amphibious landings-typical naval combat operations-has come to the fore.

The scenario announced this year includes a large-scale coastal component and simulates a multinational mission to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and confront illegal armed groups supported by a neighboring state, no one particularly hides that Russia is meant by it.

For obvious reasons, the Russian Armed Forces followed these exercises very closely. And as it turned out, not in vain! The sea was patrolled by Russian warships, and Russian fighter jets were constantly in the sky.

As expected in Moscow, the NATO ships made several attempts to arrange provocations. Two warships-HNLMS Evertsen from Dutch Navy and the British HMS Defender tried to violate the territorial waters of Russia near the Crimea, referring to the fact that this is the territory of Ukraine. As you know, the West does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Precisely, under this pretext, these dangerous maneuvers were carried out.

Russia reacted harshly. Under the threat of opening fire, foreign vessels had to leave the territorial waters of Russia. However, neither London nor Amsterdam admitted that this was a provocation.

According to the special representative of the NATO Secretary General for the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, the North Atlantic Alliance will remain in the Black Sea region to support its allies and partners.

"NATO has a clear position when it comes to freedom of navigation and the fact that Crimea is Ukraine, not Russia. During the incident with HMS Defender, NATO allies showed firmness in defending these principles, " Appathurai said.

In turn, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said that British warships "will continue to enter the territorial waters of Ukraine." He called the route followed by the intruder destroyer the shortest international route from Odessa to Georgian Batumi.

"We have every right to freely pass through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international standards. We will continue to do so, " the high-ranking official stressed.

Moscow said that it would not allow such incidents in the future, and if necessary, it is ready to apply the "toughest and most extreme measures" to violators, although such a scenario is presented by Kremlin as "extremely undesirable" for Russia.

Many experts both in Russia and in the West immediately started talking about the potential threat of the 3rd World War, which in fact can flare up because of Ukraine. It is obvious that such forecasts are not beneficial to anyone: neither NATO nor Russia. Nevertheless, a belligerent and resolute attitude remains on both sides, which cannot but cause fear and concern among ordinary people.

Even after the end of Sea Breeze 2021, NATO continues to declare that they will not leave the Black Sea anywhere. This is already confirmed by the sending of new ships to the region.

Nevertheless, the question remains open: is the North Atlantic Alliance ready to take extreme measures against Russia under the pretext of protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which is still persistently denied admission to NATO?

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Defence

Strategic Compass is controversial but better than indifference says Borrell

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EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today (12 July) discussed the EU ‘Strategic Compass’. EU High Representative Josep Borrell said that it was both an important and controversial initiative, adding: “I don't care if it is controversial, I prefer to have controversies than indifferences.”

It is the first time the foreign ministers, rather than defence ministers, will have discussed this project which aims to strengthen the EU’s crisis management, resilience, partnerships and capabilities. 

Strategic Compass is considered by the European External Action Service (EEAS) as one of the most important and ambitious projects in the field of EU security and defence. It is hoped that it can be finalized by March 2022, with a draft presented in November. It is hoped that EU states will provide clear political-strategic guidance on what they want the EU to achieve in this area in the next 5 to 10 years. 
It will guide the use of instruments the EU has at its disposal, including the recently established European Peace Facility.

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