The Government has welcomed as good news the announcement of a permanent ceasefire by the Basque separatist group, ETA.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, said that Dublin had yet to study objective information, but any decision to permanently abandon violence and pursue an exclusively democratic path was very much to be welcomed.

It is thought the ceasefire, which comes into effect from Friday, could open the way to talks with the Socialist government.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has said his government was cautious but hopeful about the announcement.

The declaration follows almost four decades of violence in which 850 people died.

Mr Zapatero has repeatedly stressed his willingness to hold a dialogue with Basque radicals but only on condition they lay down their arms and renounce violence.

Mr Zapatero's government had been eagerly awaiting the ETA announcement for several weeks.

ETA previously declared a full ceasefire in September 1998. The group rescinded the ceasefire in December 1999.

'ETA has decided to declare a ceasefire which will come into effect on Friday and will be permanent,' Basque newspaper, Gara, posted on a special edition on its website.

Gara quoted a message from ETA saying its aim was 'to move the democratic process forward in Euskal Herria (the Basque country)'.

It added it aimed to build a new framework in which the rights of Basques as a people would be recognised.

Recently, ETA has set off only small bombs which have caused slight damage. No deaths have occurred since 2003.