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In Basque region, trouble hits home

Marketplace Staff Sep 28, 2007

In Basque region, trouble hits home

Marketplace Staff Sep 28, 2007


Doug Krizner: This week, French police arrested 13 suspects in connection with last year’s bombing of a luxury hotel in the southwest Basque country. The hotel was run by French superchef Alain Ducasse. Last February, he closed the property and pulled his business out of the Basque country.

France has been hit by a wave of bomb attacks against hotels, real estate agents and holiday homes. As John Laurenson reports, they’re the work of a group whose signature is: “The Basque Country is not for sale.”

John Laurenson: The charred remains of the interior of a realtor’s office in St. Pierre d’Irube, just outside Bayonne. The office, which was brand new, is completely gutted. The flames also damaged apartments above.

The branch manager didn’t want to speak. But another real estate agent, whose premises were bombed a few weeks ago, agreed to talk, as long as we didn’t give his name.

“Why did they do this? And why me?” he asks. “What do they want? To stop people doing business?” He says it hasn’t affected his sales yet, but it’s not good publicity.

It’s not good for the tourist industry, either. The Basque country, lest we forget, is home to France’s Surf City, Biarritz.

[Music: “Deux Filles Pour Un Garcon”]

A lady in the Biarritz tourist office recommends a hotel to a couple of surfers from the United States. They might be surprised to learn that, a few feet from where they’re standing, a bomb was recently defused.

The tourist office doesn’t want to talk about it. The police, though, tell me there have been 20 bomb attacks so far this year. Plus, the torching of cars whose licence plates show they’re from outside the Basque Country.

Xabi Larralde, spokesman for the Basque separatist “Batasuna” party, which is banned as a terrorist group in Spain, says this violence is understandable.

“House prices have doubled in six years,” he tells me. “It’s now almost impossible for a young couple to buy a home.”

Houses are essential to Basque identity. Between Basques, people even call each other by the name of the house where they were born.

A house, says Mister Larralde, is not a good to be bought and sold like any other. What he’d like would be for the local authorities to buy houses that come up for sale and pass them on cheaply to local people.

Back at Saint Pierre d’Irube, it’ll be a few weeks before this wrecked real estate office opens up again. But, in the meantime, they’ve opened in other premises across the street. “The Basque Country is not for sale,” bombs or no bombs, here — and at the other 500 estate agents in the Bayonne-Biarritz agglomeration — they’re open for business.

In St. Pierre d’Irube, I’m John Laurenson for Marketplace.

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