The Basque terrorist group ETA said in a statement posted Thursday on the Web site of the Basque daily Gara that it "has decided on the definitive cessation of its armed activity."

In a statement, which the organization called "historic," ETA expressed its "clear, solid and definitive commitment ... (to) overcome the armed confrontation."

With that objective in mind, the group said it "calls upon the governments of Spain and France to open a process of direct dialogue" with an eye toward resolving "the consequences of the conflict."

It also issued a call to Basque society to "involve itself in this process of solutions (to) build a scenario of peace and freedom."

"It's time to look to the future with hope. It's also time to act with responsibility and courage," said ETA in the text published by Gara.

ETA's announcement marks "the victory of democracy, law and reason," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

This is the result of the "courage and the firmness" with which Spanish society comported itself during the more than half a century of ETA activity and the triumph "of the state of law as the only model for coexistence," Zapatero said.

The prime minister acknowledged the work undertaken against the terrorist group by earlier democratic governments and he specifically cited the ministers of the interior during his term in office.

In addition, he paid tribute to the actions and sacrifice of the state security forces "whose generous work so many times cost them their lives."

And Zapatero expressed his gratitude to France for its cooperation vis-a-vis ETA, saying that "we owe (France) eternal gratitude" and he specifically cited French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose cooperation he said "was the deciding factor."

The prime minister also acknowledged the victims of ETA, the memory of whom "will always be with us."

"Ours will be a democracy without terrorism, but not without memory," Zapatero said, referring to the more than 800 people killed by ETA.

The terrorist group also alluded to the conference held on Monday in the northern Spanish city of San Sebastian with the participation of international figures stating that it was "an initiative of great political significance" and that the resolution agreed to at that meeting "gathers the ingredients for a comprehensive solution to the conflict."

It also said that "a new political era is opening up in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country)" and that now there is "an historic opportunity to provide a fair and democratic solution" to the conflict.

ETA, an acronym for the Basque language words for Homeland and Freedom, was founded on July 31, 1959, with the aim of achieving the independence of the Basque Country from Spain.

In its more than 50 years of activity, ETA killed almost 900 people.