updated 5/17/2005 2:42:16 PM ET 2005-05-17T18:42:16

Spanish lawmakers Tuesday endorsed a government proposal for talks with the armed Basque separatist group ETA if it renounces violence, with only the conservative opposition Popular Party voting against.

The proposal was approved by 192 votes from deputies of seven political groups, including the governing Socialists, against 147 of the Popular Party. There were no abstentions.

The result was a strong vote of approval for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s unprecedented gesture to seek parliamentary support for negotiations which he insists would rule out concessions toward ETA’s goal of Basque independence and focus only on terms for its dissolution and the status of more than 500 ETA prisoners.

The Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, called it a premature gesture to a terrorist group that detonated four small bombs over the weekend.

Politically potent
The motion is symbolic — it does not force the government to hold talks — but it is politically potent.

Spanish governments have negotiated with ETA before — a previous Socialist administration did so in 1989 and the Popular Party government of Zapatero’s predecessor Jose Maria Aznar did it in 1999. Both rounds were secret and failed to end the decades-old conflict that has left more than 800 people dead in a campaign of shootings and bombings aimed at creating an independent homeland in the wealthy region of northern Spain.

Zapatero argues now that ETA has been decimated by arrests and has not staged a fatal attack in two years, so the time is right to try to launch a peace process. No Spanish government has ever openly sought Parliament’s backing for the idea of negotiating with ETA.

A poll released over the weekend said 61 percent of Spaniards support talks with ETA if it renounces violence, while 29 percent were against.

Overture called a 'surrender'
Rajoy says Zapatero’s overture amounts to the “surrender of Parliament” to ETA because the group has not renounced violence or declared a cease-fire and all Zapatero should do is keep trying to crush ETA through police measures.

When the Popular Party held a lone round of talks with ETA in a Swiss hotel in 1999, ETA had declared a truce six months earlier.  It ended the cease-fire in Jan. 2000 after the talks failed, resuming attacks.

Basque police have blamed ETA for four small bombs that exploded Sunday at industrial sites in the Basque region. Three people were slightly injured in the blasts.

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