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Posts tagged ‘Iberian Land of Catalonia’

Catalan parliament postpones re-election of fugitive leader

January 30, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s parliament speaker on Tuesday postponed a session intended to re-elect the region’s fugitive ex-president, saying the planned meeting would not take place until there were guarantees Spanish authorities “won’t interfere.”

The decision comes after Spain’s top court ruled Saturday that Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium and faces arrest if he returns, could only be re-elected if physically present in the parliament in Barcelona. The court also ordered that he must obtain permission to appear at parliament from the judge investigating him over Catalonia’s independence bid.

Puigdemont is one of more than a dozen Catalan political figures facing possible rebellion and sedition charges following the previous parliament’s illegal and unsuccessful declaration of independence in October, which brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades to a head.

The decision leaves the future government of the prosperous region in something of a limbo. Spain seized control of the region by firing Puigdemont and his government and dissolving parliament following the independence declaration. It says it will keep control until a new government takes office following elections held Dec. 21. The parliament was initially scheduled to have a first investiture vote by Wednesday.

Puigdemont’s party has appealed to the top court to annul Saturday’s ruling, arguing that their leader, as an elected lawmaker, has political immunity and is entitled to be become regional president. The court was expected to rule later Tuesday.

Earlier, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged the Catalan parliament to drop Puigdemont’s candidacy and opt for a lawmaker not entangled in legal proceedings. Rajoy said the “most sensible” thing for the parliament speaker would be to propose a “clean candidate” who is willing to obey the law and work for the return of normality in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million inhabitants and which represents a fifth of Spain’s GDP.

“I am not going to propose a candidate other than Puigdemont,” Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent said Tuesday. “President Puigdemont has all the right to be elected.” “The Spanish government and the Constitutional court aim to violate the rights of millions of Catalans and this we will not accept,” he added.

Nonetheless, Torrent said the session to hold the vote would be postponed. The Spanish government welcomed that decision. An official speaking anonymously in line with government rules said that pressure applied by the government and the country’s top court “have prevented a mockery of our democracy.”

Giles contribute from Madrid. Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

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Fugitive Catalan chief seeks parliament protection for vote

January 29, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president, Carles Puigdemont, asked the region’s parliament on Monday to guarantee his right to attend a session this week in which he hopes to be re-elected government leader, without being arrested.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled Saturday that Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium following an illegal declaration of independence last October, must be present in parliament to be chosen as the region’s chief in Tuesday’s session. But a Spanish judge has ordered Puigdemont’s arrest on possible rebellion and sedition charges if he re-enters Spain.

The Constitutional Court also said Puigdemont must get court permission to attend the session. Initially, Puigdemont was expected to seek that, but his lawyer said Monday this was unlikely. The lawyer did not rule out Puigdemont’s attendance.

The Constitutional Court ruled the session would not be valid if Puigdemont attends without the permit. Should the Catalan parliament governing board approve Puigdemont’s request and encourage his attendance without the permit it would set the chamber on course for further clashes with Spain’s government and courts.

Puigdemont is just one of more than a dozen lawmakers and civic group leaders already under investigation for rebellion and sedition relating to an independence push that brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades to a head.

The slim majority regained by separatist lawmakers headed by Puigdemont in Dec. 21 elections has kept the crisis very much alive. In Tuesday’s session, the parliament speaker has two choices. He can ignore the court and allow a vote with Puigdemont present in person, if he turns up, or by video conference, which has been banned by the tribunal.

Alternatively, he can seek another candidate but that would likely outrage the thousands of pro-independence supporters promising to rally outside the chamber. Polls regularly show most Catalans want the right to decide the region’s future, but are evenly divided over splitting from Spain.

Former Catalan leader seeks long-distance ‘tech’ government

January 19, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia’s fugitive former leader, who wants his old job back, says new technologies would allow him to govern from Belgium. Carles Puigdemont spoke to Catalan public radio from Belgium, where he fled to avoid a judicial probe in Spain over secession attempts.

The challenge led Spanish central authorities to disband the Catalan Cabinet and call an election in the northeastern region. Results granted separatists a slim parliamentary majority. But with ousted Catalan Cabinet members under investigation, jailed or in Belgium and facing arrest if they return home, the Catalan parliament’s new governing body must decide by the end of January whether to permit Puigdemont’s re-election through a proxy delegate.

Spain’s central government has vowed to impede Puigdemont’s reinstatement by challenging it in courts if necessary.

Catalan separatists agree deal to re-elect Puigdemont

January 10, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia’s main separatist parties said Wednesday they have agreed to re-elect fugitive Carles Puigdemont as president of the region later this month, although how to make that legally possible is still up in the air.

Puigdemont, who has been in Brussels since he was sacked in October over an attempt to secede from Spain, faces immediate arrest if he returns home. He wants the separatist majority in the new regional parliament to appoint him despite his absence.

The Catalan assembly’s regulations are ambiguous about that possibility, but the anti-independence opposition says that a president can’t govern from afar. “It’s evident that for governing Catalonia you have to be in Catalonia, you can’t do that via WhatsApp or as a hologram,” said Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the anti-independence Ciutadans (Citizens) party. “A person who is fleeing justice can’t be the president.”

A spokesman with Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) ticket said that the separatist politician secured the backing of the left-republican ERC party Tuesday evening in Brussels. The parties jointly hold 66 of the 135 seats in the regional chamber, and can add the support of four anti-establishment lawmakers.

The separatists’ dominance of the chamber, however, depends on jailed or fugitive elected lawmakers who won’t be able to vote unless they are released or give up their seats to someone else on the party list. But a new president can form government with a simple majority in a second attempt.

An ERC spokesman also confirmed the deal, adding that Puigdemont will propose to speak via video conference to the regional parliament later this month or have a fellow party lawmaker read the mandatory speech that candidates to the regional leadership need to deliver before being voted in.

Both officials spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to be identified in news reports. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ordered the Dec. 21 regional election under constitutional powers he invoked in October to dissolve the previous parliament after separatist lawmakers voted to declare Catalonia an independent republic. He also removed Puigdemont and his Cabinet.

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister’s hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

The two separatist parties have also agreed to elect a separatist parliamentary speaker at the inaugural session on Jan. 17. It’s the speaker who calls on a candidate to try to form a government in the following days.

Puigdemont boasted again on Wednesday that the three Catalan pro-independence parties had secured a majority despite some of their candidates campaigning from self-imposed exile or in jail while facing possible charges of rebellion.

“The desire to be free from Madrid is rising, it is in the majority and it is lasting over time, despite the huge difficulties it faces,” he wrote in an editorial published on the Politico news website. “That calls for attention and respect — neither of which have been offered by the Spanish government and the European Union.”

Polls consistently show most Catalans want the right to decide their future but are evenly divided over splitting from Spain.

Catalan separatists regain majority in regional election

December 22, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s secessionist parties won enough votes Thursday to regain a slim majority in the regional parliament and give new momentum to their political struggle for independence from Spain.

It was hardly an emphatic victory, however, as the separatists lost support compared to the previous vote in 2015, and a pro-unity party for the first time became biggest single bloc in the Catalan parliament.

The result left more questions than answers about what’s next for Catalonia, where a long-standing push for independence escalated to a full-on clash with the Spanish government two months ago. It was also a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who as a result of the separatists’ defiance ousted the Catalan Cabinet and called the early election hoping to keep them out of power.

Instead, the election’s outcome favored fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into the attempt to split from Spain. The investigation could lead to charges of rebellion and sedition that carry penalties of decades in prison.

Puigdemont, who got the most votes of any separatist candidate, greeted the results with delight and called them a rebuke to Spain’s central government. “The Spanish state has been defeated,” Puigdemont said. “Mariano Rajoy has received a slap in the face from Catalonia.”

In a televised appearance from Brussels, the 54 year-old former journalist didn’t make clear if he would try to return home, where an arrest warrant awaits him. The other main winner was Ines Arrimadas, the leading unionist candidate. Scoring 25 percent of the votes, her pro-business Ciutadans (Citizens) party won 37 seats, which will be the biggest single bloc in the 135-seat regional assembly.

“The pro-secession forces can never again claim they speak for all of Catalonia,” Arrimadas said, promising her party will continue to oppose the separatists. “We are going to keep fighting for a peaceful co-existence, common sense and for a Catalonia for all Catalans.”

But pro-independence parties — Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), left-republican ERC and the anti-capitalist CUP — together won 70 seats, two above a majority but two less than in the previous parliament. The three groups fell short of winning a majority of votes, though, getting 48 percent of the total.

“The election has resolved very little,” said Andrew Dowling, a specialist in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales. “Independence has won but in a way similar to 2015 — majority of seats but not in votes.”

Dowling said that with the independence vote not reaching over half of the ballots cast, the European Union was not likely to get involved although the bloc will be keen on seeing the Spanish government actively address Catalonia’s grievances.

Rajoy has said that taking over control of the region again would be something he would consider if independence is sought by a new Catalan government. Spain’s constitution bars secession. Thursday’s election saw a record turnout of nearly 82 percent of the 5.5 million eligible voters in Catalonia.

The election was held under highly unusual circumstances, with several pro-independence leaders either jailed or in self-imposed exile for their roles in staging a banned independence referendum that was declared illegal by Spain’s highest court.

Eight of the absent politicians were elected as lawmakers. Unless their status changes, they will have to renounce their seats and pass them on to other party members or else the pro-independence bloc could be down a crucial share of votes.

Weeks of campaigning involved little debate about regional policy on issues such as public education, widening inequality and unemployment. At the heart of the battle instead was the recent independence push that led to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Tensions have been high in Catalonia since an Oct. 1 referendum backed independence, when Spanish police used rubber bullets and batons against voters who tried to block them from removing ballots from polling stations. Separatist regional lawmakers made a unilateral declaration of independence Oct. 27, prompting Spain’s national government to take the dramatic step of firing the regional government and dissolving the Catalan parliament. Courts later ordered the arrest of the former Catalan leaders.

No incidents were reported during voting Thursday. A new Catalan attempt to secede would also be an unwelcome development for the European Union, which is already wrestling with legal complications from Britain’s planned exit from the bloc. Senior EU officials have backed Rajoy, and no EU country has offered support for the separatists.

Catalonia’s independence ambitions also have scant support in the rest of Spain. The outcome of the political battle is crucial for the region, which accounts for 19 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. An economic slowdown has been the most immediate consequence of the Catalan independence push. Spain’s central bank last week cut its national growth forecasts for next year and 2019 to 2.4 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, cutting a percentage point off its previous predictions and citing the conflict in Catalonia as the cause.

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra reported this story in Barcelona and AP writer Ciaran Giles reported from Madrid. AP writers Joseph Wilson and Karl Ritter in Barcelona, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.

Catalan vote fails to clarify Spanish region’s future

December 22, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Elections in Catalonia have failed to clarify the restive region’s immediate future, exposing a deep and broad split between those for and against independence from Spain. The Spanish government called the snap election after Catalan separatist parties unilaterally declared independence in October, following a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish authorities.

Spain’s government fired the regional government, arrested some of its leaders and dissolved the Catalan parliament. Here is a look at the outcome of Thursday’s ballot:

WHO WON?

The pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes in what was the biggest electoral triumph so far for the party founded just over 10 years ago.

Ciutadans, led by 36-year-old lawyer Ines Arrimadas, has been the main opposition to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

However, it was a bittersweet victory for the business-friendly party because its 37 seats in the 135-seat regional assembly aren’t enough for it to form a regional government on its own.

The real winners turned out to be the pro-independence groupings, who together have a majority in the new Catalan parliament.

Though they have the opportunity to control the assembly, they scored less than half of the votes —48 percent of the total. That could be a source of vulnerability that political opponents will likely use to argue that most Catalans oppose independence.

WHO LOST?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party came last with just three seats, down seven, in what was a major blow to the country’s governing party.

Rajoy argued that the unrest in Catalonia over its October bid for independence had hurt the economy in what is Spain’s richest region, accounting for about one-fifth of the country’s national income. By appealing to their pockets, Rajoy had hoped Catalans would turn against the separatists.

The Citizens party, emboldened by its strong showing in Catalonia, could become a stronger challenge for the Popular Party on a national level.

WHO WILL TAKE POWER?

Parties demanding independence won 70 seats, giving them a parliamentary majority, though they didn’t get as many seats as they did in the last election two years ago.

The separatists’ slim parliamentary majority will allow them together to negotiate the formation of a government. Past squabbles between them suggest it won’t be easy.

Together for Catalonia snared 34 seats, making it the most popular separatist party. Its leader is Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive former Catalan president. He campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into the October attempt to split from Spain. The investigation could lead to charges of rebellion and sedition that carry penalties of decades in prison if he returns to Spain for a possible trial.

The left-wing republican ERC party collected 32 seats. Its leader and Puigdemont’s former No. 2 Oriol Junqueras is being held in jail near Madrid while the investigation continues. The radical, anti-capitalist CUP has four seats.

A major question is who from their ranks those three parties might agree on to become Catalan president and what conditions they would each impose on each other and what they will seek from Madrid.

WHAT ABOUT SPAIN?

The elections kept alive the turbulent issue of Catalan independence, which has scant support in Spain.

The likely continuing political unrest and uncertainty is unwelcome for investors if the early market response Friday is anything to go by. The Madrid stock exchange slid 1.6 percent at the open but soon recovered to trade only 0.9 percent lower in late morning trading.

Investors “are wisely taking a little risk off the table” after seeing the Catalan result, ETX Capital senior market analyst Neil Wilson said in a note.

Spain’s central bank last week blamed the uncertainty in Catalonia for its decision to cut its national growth forecasts for next year and 2019 to 2.4 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

THE MISSING

Eight of the separatist lawmakers elected, including Puigdemont and Junqueras, are either in jail or are fugitives from Spanish justice in Brussels following the October secession bid.

By law, they can formally accept their seats as deputies without being present. However, parliamentary rules do not allow fugitive or jailed lawmakers to vote in absentia. That means that unless their status changes, the eight may have to renounce their seats and pass them on to other party members.

Otherwise, the separatists would be short of the majority necessary to elect a new government and pass laws in the regional assembly.

THE TIMETABLE

Rajoy is expected to announce the date of the inaugural Catalan parliament session in the coming weeks, but rules say that it will need to be before Jan. 23.

At that opening session, the parliament chooses a house speaker who will call on a candidate to try to form a government within 10 days. The first investiture vote for a new Catalan president must be held by Feb. 6.

In that first vote, the candidate needs an absolute majority of votes. If the candidate fails, he or she will have another chance within 48 hours when they need to have only more votes in favor than against. Failing that, the parties will have two months to form a government or fresh elections will be called.

Governing Catalonia, meanwhile, will remain in the hands of central authorities in Madrid, until a new Catalan Cabinet is chosen. Rajoy has not ruled out invoking the constitutional article that allows him to seize control of the region if the new government breaks the law again by seeking unilateral independence.

Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.

Catalonia’s divided residents head to the polls again

December 20, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — In Barcelona, Catalonia’s cosmopolitan capital, there is no sign of the independent country that the region’s former leaders proclaimed with great fanfare nearly two months ago.

The Spanish flag still flies alongside the Catalan one above the regional government building. The square where a jubilant crowd celebrated what it thought was the birth of a new republic is adorned only with Christmas decorations.

The movement’s leaders are in jail or have fled the country after staging a brazen Oct. 1 referendum on secession that was declared illegal by Spain’s government and highest court. But as voters return to the polls Thursday — this time to elect a new regional government in an election called by Spain as a way out of the crisis — Catalonia has been left deeply polarized by this fall’s dramatic events.

Friendships have been broken, families split. Many Catalans who had mixed feelings about independence, or didn’t care about the issue much, now feel compelled to take a position. Gabriel Brau, a 50-year-old photographer with little interest in politics, said he will vote for the first time since the 1980s, and it will be for one of the parties that favors independence. Or rather, against those who don’t, because he finds them complicit in Spain’s crackdown.

During the October referendum, Spanish police used rubber bullets and truncheons against voters, who formed human barriers to keep them out of polling stations. “What happened on Oct. 1 affected me in a powerful way,” Brau said. “I was thinking, ‘What if they did that to my son?’ That is not democracy. … I don’t want these people to govern my country.”

The other side has also been galvanized. Catalans who oppose independence previously kept a low profile. Coming out as a unionist, they say, would have resulted in scorn, insults and even accusations of treason from pro-independence friends and neighbors.

But in the aftermath of the referendum they for the first time gathered for mass rallies similar in size to those achieved by the independence movement. Cristina Calaco, 51, said she was so appalled by the way the secessionist leaders unilaterally pushed through the referendum, “I wanted to pack my bags and leave Catalonia.”

But after seeing unionists with Spanish flags on the streets, she was emboldened to publicly display her allegiance to Spain. These days, when pro-independence neighbors bang pots and pans in noisy balcony protests, she said she opens her window and shouts “Viva Espana” — long live Spain.

Spain’s heavy-handed response may have raised eyebrows in Europe, but it didn’t lead to any significant support for Catalan secession. No European Union country has recognized the declaration of independence that Catalonia’s parliament adopted on Oct. 27.

On the surface, independence now seems further away than before the referendum. The Spanish government applied never-before-used constitutional powers take direct control of the region. The plan is to restore autonomy after Thursday’s election produces a new regional government.

Yet the Catalans supporting a total breakup with Spain now seem more committed than ever, saying the government’s tough response showed the true nature of the Spanish state. “They don’t realize how many people they converted,” said Ana Pousa, 38, who was born in the northwestern Galicia region but grew up in Catalonia and now hesitates to call herself Spanish.

The movement for secession to a large extent is driven by the notion that Catalonia’s history, culture and language make it separate from Spain. It’s also about economics: Wealthy Catalonia pays more taxes to Madrid than it gets back in government handouts, something that frustrated many Catalans during the deep recession that started in 2008.

But there is also a sense of victimhood that can be hard to grasp for outsiders. Independence activists, often middle-class intellectuals, say they are being repressed by the Spanish government, drawing parallels to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when Catalans were banned from speaking their language in public. On a square in Barcelona this week, some activists even made comparisons to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

“There are dynamics, aspects that you can compare: how the state abuses its power,” said Heiko Voigts, a 46-year-old South African who married a Catalan. “But I wouldn’t compare too much.” Some of the pro-independence leaders are in pre-trial detention for staging the referendum illegally. Others face preliminary charges of rebellion and sedition, among them Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan regional president who fled to Belgium. He risks up to 30 years in prison if he returns to Spain.

Spain’s conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has rejected questions over the separation of powers prompted by the crackdown, saying his government has no say over the country’s independent courts.

His own ministers don’t always help him making that case, though. Just this weekend his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, boasted that the governing party had effectively “beheaded” the independence movement’s leadership. Party colleagues later said she meant that only in a political sense.

Thursday’s election could see pro-independence parties return to power, or it could yield a new coalition led by parties who want Catalonia to remain in Spain. Either way, the rift between the two sides is likely to remain deep.

“Now it seems you can’t be in the middle and say, ‘I don’t know what I want,'” Pousa said. She said while she respects everyone’s views, some unionists say awful things like, “I wish (the police) had beaten more people.”

She used to think of herself as Galician, Catalan and Spanish all in one, but the situation has made her reconsider her relationship with Spain. “Hearing myself saying ‘I’m Spanish’ sounds strange,” she said. “Because now it means something different.”

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