Spanish officials hold talks with Basque separatist leader

The meeting in a hotel in the Basque city of San Sebastian brought together Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Batasuna, considered ETA's political wing, and Patxi Lopez, leader of the Basque branch of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist party.

The meeting marked the first time a representative of a governing party in Spain conferred openly and on the record with a delegate of an outlawed party that is officially classified here as part of a terrorist organization.

Officials of previous governments have met with members of Batasuna or even ETA, but these sessions were always secret and disclosed only after the fact.

Spanish conservatives were outraged. They say Zapatero, who last week announced his government will negotiate with ETA, is yielding to terrorists by allowing contacts with Batasuna while it is still outlawed and before ETA has surrendered and dissolved, the AP reports.

The Socialists counter that the meeting was designed simply to persuade Batasuna to renounce violence, thus working toward lifting the ban against it, and advance the peace process triggered by ETA's cease-fire.

Spain's Supreme Court banned Batasuna in 2003 on grounds it is part of ETA.