The Basque country is a small but wealthy region of northern Spain, with its own distinct culture and language. Under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who suppressed Basque culture, ETA emerged as a national liberation movement in the late 1960s.
It was most violent in the 1980s, staging hundreds of shootings of police and politicians and even occasional indiscriminate bombings of civilians.
In more recent times it has been decimated by arrests and weakening support from Basques with little stomach for terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In a statement Thursday, ETA said it "has decided on the definitive end of its armed struggle. ETA calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of a direct dialogue."
ETA, which has killed 829 people in bombings and shootings since the late 1960s, is classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union, and the United States.
Its first killing was in 1968. The ETA statement made no mention of what the group intended to do with its weapons.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Thursday hailed the news as a victory for Spanish democracy. In a brief appearance, he made no mention of prospects for dialogue with ETA.
Talks in 2006 went nowhere, and ETA ended a cease-fire after just a few months.