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Spain: Fugitive Basque separatist wins lit prize

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Published : Oct. 4, 2011 - 15:40

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MADRID (AP) ― A fugitive who escaped Spanish jail 25 years ago has been awarded one of the Basque country’s top literary awards, but told he cannot have the money that goes with it until he hands himself into authorities.

The Basque regional government gave the award to Joseba Sarrionandia on Monday but is withholding the 18,000 euro ($24,000) stipend until he comes forward and “regularizes” his legal situation.

Sarrionandia, now 53, escaped from a prison in the seaside city of San Sebastian in 1985 while serving time for belonging to the militant separatist group ETA by hiding inside the large speakers of a musical group that had performed at the jail.

His spectacular escape was worthy of a movie scene and inspired a song named after him, the newspaper El Mundo reported.

A government-sponsored jury gave him the award corresponding to 2010 for essays in the Basque language, which is called euskara.

The Basque government is run by the local branch of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist party, with support from the conservative Popular Party.

The culture department said it respected the decision and acknowledged Sarrionandia’s talent as a writer. But it said that in line with its “commitment to the law and firm rejection of terrorism” it has major qualms about giving money to a man convicted of belonging to ETA.

It said Sarrionandia had never renounced his membership in ETA, which has killed 829 people in a campaign of bombings and shootings since the late 1960s and is classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States.

“The Basque government accepts the decision but will withhold the monetary component of the prize until the prize-winner fully regularizes his situation with judicial authorities.”

The jury said Sarrionandia, who has won other non-government-sponsored prizes before, is a solid writer who over time could become “a classic of Basque culture.”