- - Sunday, October 28, 2012

MADRID — A member of the Basque separatist group ETA responsible for its arms and explosives caches was arrested in eastern France on Sunday, officials said.

Izaskun Lesaka, 37, and another suspected ETA member, Joseba Iturbide Ochoteco, 35, were arrested in the early hours by elite French police in a hotel in Macon, France, Spain’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The suspects, both armed, were tracked down and arrested by a special operations tactical unit of the French National Police in close collaboration with Spanish counterparts, the ministry said.

It said Lesaka was considered one of ETA’s top three leaders and that police also seized “abundant computer equipment and a stolen car with false number plates.”

ETA is considered a terrorist organization by Spain, the U.S. and the European Union. It is blamed for the killings of at least 825 people in a campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque state straddling Spain’s border with France.

The group has been decimated by waves of arrests in Spain, France and other countries over recent years and further weakened by declining grass-roots support among Basque nationalists who had tolerated its activities in exchange for working toward the goal of independence.

ETA announced a definitive cease-fire late last year, but Spain insists it must lay down its arms and dissolve before the government takes such declarations seriously.

LITHUANIA

Lithuanians vote fora new parliament

VILNIUS — Lithuanians voted Sunday in a parliamentary election that could determine whether the small East European nation continues tough austerity measures in an effort to join the eurozone.

Two center-left opposition parties — Labor and the Social Democrats — have pledged to form a new coalition government together with another opposition party, promising to end the current government’s budget cuts and increase social spending.

Labor finished first in the earlier opening round of the parliamentary election, and the Social Democrats second.

The Social Democrats also have said that Lithuania should postpone introducing the euro until the European Union can sort out its three-year economic crisis.

But the center-right government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’ Homeland Union-Christian Democrats could pull off an upset.

“It seems the likeliest option is that the three parties will end up with a similar number of seats, so coalition talks are likely to be quite long,” Mr. Kubilius told reporters after voting Sunday.

His government began in 2008 at the start of Europe’s financial crisis, and was the first in Lithuania to complete an entire four-year term since the nation became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The government has won praise for averting bankruptcy and returning the economy to growth. Mr. Kubilius has vowed to introduce the euro in 2014, though the economy may fail to meet criteria on inflation and deficit spending.

ITALY

Court convicts Berlusconiof tax evasion

MILAN — A court in Milan on Friday convicted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of tax fraud and sentenced the media mogul to four years in prison, his first prison sentence in years of criminal probes.

The 76-year-old billionaire businessman won’t go to prison right away. In Italy, cases must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final.

Berlusconi received a suspended sentence in 1997 for false bookkeeping, but that conviction was reversed on appeal.

Other criminal investigation probes against him on charges including corruption had ended in acquittal or were thrown out for statute of limitations.

Earlier laste week, Berlusconi had announced he wouldn’t run for a fourth term. He was forced to resign a year ago in Italy’s debt crisis, wasn’t in the courtroom.

His lawyers declined to make immediate comment, but he is expected to appeal.

NORTHERN IRELAND

IRA link probed inshooting of Belfast man

BELFAST — Northern Ireland authorities said a 36-year-old man was fatally shot as he sat on his living room sofa in a case with suspected links to drug dealing and Irish Republican Army extremists.

Police said Danny McKay died Thursday night at his home in suburban north Belfast after being shot at point-blank range by two gunmen. A suspected getaway car was found in Catholic west Belfast, an IRA power base.

Detective Chief Inspector John McVea said Mr. McKay was involved in criminal activity but added that nothing he “may have done in his life merits this.”

The Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party said residents in Mr. McKay’s neighborhood are blaming an IRA faction.

Several splinter groups opposed to the Provisional IRA’s 2005 decision to renounce violence continue to mount occasional shootings and bombings.

SPAIN

2,000 sheep led through streets of capital

MADRID — Spanish shepherds led a flock of more than 2,000 sheep through central Madrid in defense of ancient grazing, migration and droving rights threatened by urban sprawl and modern agricultural practices.

The right to use droving routes that wind across land that was open fields and woodland before Madrid grew from a rural hamlet to the great metropolis it is today has existed since at least 1273.

Every year a few shepherds defend the right and, following an age-old tradition, on Sunday paid 25 maravedis — coins first minted in the 11th century — to city hall to use the crossing.

Shepherds have a right to use 78,000 miles of paths for seasonal livestock migrations from highland pastures in summer to warmer grazing in winter.

FRANCE

President opens Elysee gardens

PARIS — Hundreds of Parisians and tourists lined up Sunday to get a rare chance to visit the gardens of France’s presidential palace.

Visitors were taking advantage of a new policy inaugurated by President Francois Hollande to open the 18th-century Elysee Palace gardens to the public every last Sunday of the month.

In the past, the palace and gardens were only open to the public once a year on France’s Heritage Days weekend in September.

Access to the gardens is just off the Champs Elysee avenue via an ornate wrought-iron gate topped with gilt rooster, the French national symbol.

The gardens are open from noon to 5 p.m. the last Sunday of the month from October to March, and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September.

From wire dispatches and staff reports