Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Iberian Land of Catalonia’

Catalonia gets new leader determined to achieve independence

May 17, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Fervent Catalan secessionist Quim Torra was sworn in Thursday as the restive Spanish region’s new leader, with his demands for an independent Catalonia set to prolong a standoff with Spain’s national government.

Torra formally took office at a ceremony in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. He was elected by the Catalan parliament’s secessionist lawmakers on Monday. In a sign of the simmering tension, Spain’s national government in Madrid, which usually sends a representative to regional government ceremonies, declined to attend the swearing-in. It said Catalan authorities had tried to dictate which central government officials could be present — a condition that Madrid rejected.

The spat over Catalonia’s future has brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, though its three main political parties stand united against Catalan independence. Thursday’s ceremony was heavy on symbolism, with pointed signals apparently aimed at the central Spanish authorities.

Torra had only the red-and-yellow Catalan flag behind him during the ceremony. The Spanish flag was absent. Also, in his oath he pledged only to be faithful to the people of Catalonia. He made no reference to upholding the Spanish Constitution nor loyalty to Spain’s king. The Spanish government says it cannot grant Catalonia independence, among other reasons, because the Constitution says Spain is “indivisible.” King Felipe VI has publicly supported the government’s stance.

Torra also wore a yellow ribbon in his lapel, symbolizing support for separatist leaders being held in Spanish jails over last year’s outlawed independence referendum and illegal declaration of a separate Catalan state.

Advertisements

Huge rally in Barcelona to demand jailed separatists go free

April 15, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Catalan separatists rallied in downtown Barcelona on Sunday to demand the release of high-profile secessionist leaders being held in pre-trial detention.

Protesters waved Catalan separatist flags behind a huge banner that read “for rights and liberties, for democracy and unity, we want them back home!” The demonstration was organized by two pro-independence grassroots groups, the National Catalan Assembly and Omnium, whose presidents are among the nine separatists in prison awaiting trial for their roles in last year’s failed breakaway bid by the northeastern Spanish region.

The regional chapters of Spain’s two leading labor unions, along with other civil society groups, supported the protest despite the complaints from some members who don’t want secession for Catalonia. Barcelona police said 315,000 people participated in the protest.

“The majority of Catalans, regardless of their political position, agree that pre-trial jail is not justified,” said regional UGT union leader Camil Ros. “What we as labor unions are asking for now is dialogue.”

The secession movement in the wealthy region has plunged Spain into its deepest institutional crisis in decades. Separatist lawmakers defied court orders and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence in October. Their subsequent declaration of independence for the region led to a crackdown by Spanish authorities acting to defend the Spanish Constitution, which declares the nation “indivisible.”

Pro-independence parties retained a slim majority in Catalonia’s parliament after an election in December, but courts have blocked their attempts to elect as regional chief any lawmaker who is either behind bars or has fled the country.

The latest opinion poll published by the Catalan government in February said that support for independence had decreased to 40 percent from near 49 percent in October. The poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Catalan ex-leader to leave German prison after posting bail

April 06, 2018

NEUMUENSTER, Germany (AP) — German prosecutors on Friday ordered the immediate release of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont after he posted 75,000 euros ($92,000) bail, which will allow him to move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition sought by Spain.

The Schleswig prosecutor’s office said Puigdemont also provided authorities with an address in Germany where he will reside pending the decision. “No information will be provided about his current whereabouts,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Lawyers for Puigdemont had arrived at the Neumuenster prison early Friday but it wasn’t immediately clear how and when the 55-year-old would leave jail. Supporters said Puigdemont planned a news conference later Friday.

Puigdemont was detained by German police March 25 after crossing the border from Denmark. Spain is seeking his extradition for rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

The state court in Schleswig ruled Thursday that Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion because the equivalent German law presumes the use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities. He can still be extradited on misuse of funds charges.

The German court’s decision is a setback for the Spanish judiciary’s efforts to crack down on the separatist movement. It is also an embarrassing blow for Spain’s conservative government, which has insisted the dispute over Catalan separatism is a legal issue, not a political one, and has refused to be drawn into negotiations with Puigdemont and his supporters since October’s banned referendum.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government would respect the German ruling and awaited further details of it before deciding on appropriate action. She also took a swipe at the Catalan pro-independence parties, which the government accuses of flouting the Constitution and disobeying court orders, by adding that Spain is “a state that is shows its character by respecting the decisions of the courts in whatever direction that decision is made.”

German court orders Catalan ex-leader’s release on bail

April 06, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A German court ruled Thursday that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail pending a decision on his extradition to Spain, finding that the most serious accusation against him isn’t punishable under German law.

The state court in the northern town of Schleswig said it set conditions including a 75,000-euro ($92,000) payment for the 55-year-old to leave prison. It wasn’t immediately clear when he would be released, though it appeared unlikely before Friday morning.

“We will see each other tomorrow. Thank you all!” a message posted on his Twitter feed read. Puigdemont was detained on a European arrest warrant shortly after entering Germany on March 25. He was trying to drive from Finland to Belgium, where has been living since fleeing to escape arrest in Spain. He has been held at a prison in Neumuenster.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain. German prosecutors argued earlier this week that the main charge of rebellion is equivalent to Germany’s criminal offense of treason. German law calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the republic’s existence or change its constitutional order.

However, the court disagreed Thursday, saying Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion. It found that the accusations against Puigdemont don’t satisfy the precedents set by previous German rulings, which call for a use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities.

“Rebellion is the most serious, having the heaviest punishment. It means that if he is extradited for other things, that he can never be prosecuted for rebellion in Spain,” Puigdemont’s Belgian defense lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said.

“Again a signal has been sent to Spain’s justice system that they are going the wrong way,” he told Belgium’s VRT network. Judges will consider Puigdemont’s extradition on the less serious charge of misusing public funds, meaning that he only could face trial for that if he were returned to Spain. They said that there was no indication he could be “exposed to the danger of political persecution.”

The court said that because Puigdemont can’t extradited for rebellion he posed less of a flight risk and could be released on bail. If Puigdemont makes the bail payment and leaves prison, he can’t leave Germany without prosecutors’ approval, must inform prosecutors of every change of residence and report to police once a week, court spokeswoman Frauke Holmer said.

In response to the German court’s ruling, a Spanish official said the government in Madid respects judicial decisions “always, when it likes them and when it doesn’t.” The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said “Spanish justice will adopt the appropriate measures in the face of these new circumstances.”

In Brussels, three fugitive allies of Puigdemont were held briefly Thursday before being conditionally released by Belgian judicial authorities to await a decision on whether they should be extradited to Spain.

Isabel Mateos, a retiree attending a protest in the Catalan town of Figueres to call for the release of jailed separatists, reacted with joy to the news. “Truth to be told, we didn’t expect it,” she said. “We are totally happy and we’ll celebrate it.”

Earlier Thursday, the Spanish National Court charged the former head of Catalonia’s regional police and other regional security officials with sedition over their role in events leading to the banned referendum on independence.

Judge Carmen Lamela said in an indictment that Mossos d’Esquadra chief Josep Lluis Trapero was part of an organized plan to seek Catalonia’s secession, which courts have forbidden because the constitution says Spain is “indivisible.”

Trapero was hailed in Catalonia as a local hero for the handling of deadly extremist attacks in and near Barcelona last summer. But he then came under severe pressure when Spanish national authorities asked his regional police force to help prevent the Oct. 1 referendum, which triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Trapero was demoted when the Spanish government assumed direct rule of the region. Two other members of the regional police and an official with the regional interior department were also indicted Thursday.

Catalonia has been without a president or regional government since a regional election in December which produced a slim majority of pro-independence lawmakers in the Catalan parliament. Efforts to form a government have been hampered by internal discord within the separatist bloc and the legal challenges faced by presidential candidates.

Aritz Parra in Madrid, Raf Casert in Brussels and Renata Brito in Figueres, Spain contributed to this report.

Catalonia ex-leader to remain jailed during extradition case

March 26, 2018

NEUMUENSTER, Germany (AP) — Spain’s showdown with Catalonia’s separatist leaders moved Monday to German courts as the region’s former president, Carles Puigdemont, embarked on what could be a weeks-long effort to avoid extradition from Germany.

A court in the northern town of Neumuenster ruled that Puigdemont, who was arrested Sunday in Germany, has to remain in custody for the length of the extradition proceedings. The court said the formal requirements to detain Puigdemont had been met by a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

In denying him bail, the court said Puigdemont posed a flight risk, concluding that he had “a strong incentive” to try to travel to Belgium where his chances of avoiding extradition might be greater. Schleswig Holstein state prosecutor Georg Guentge said the former Catalan leader appeared “calm and composed” during Monday’s hearing, at times making legal arguments on his own behalf.

Guentge said Puigdemont can challenge the legal basis for Spain’s extradition request during the formal proceedings, which will now take place before the upper court in nearby Schleswig. Guentge said it isn’t clear whether a decision on the extradition request will happen this week and in the meantime Puigdemont will remain at the prison in Neumuenster.

With tensions flaring back home, Spain’s government said Puigdemont’s arrest at a highway rest area south of the German-Danish border during an attempt to drive from Finland to Belgium shows that “nobody can infinitely mock justice.”

Tens of thousands protested late Sunday in Barcelona and other Catalan towns, and some demonstrators clashed with riot police. Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont, 55, of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on independence for Catalonia.

German officials have stressed that the case is a matter for the judicial system, but declined to say whether the German government could ultimately overrule a court decision. European rules call for a final decision on extradition within 60 days of the suspect’s arrest, though a 30-day extension is possible, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Stephanie Krueger said.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont’s government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.

The Catalan parliament’s subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities. Spain originally asked for Puigdemont’s extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation last week.

In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, in an effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement. The international arrest warrant for Puigdemont was reactivated on Friday, while he was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatists who fled the country.

Authorities examining a European arrest warrant must determine whether the offense a suspect is accused of committing is equivalent to a criminal offense in the country where he was arrested. Germany’s criminal code — unlike Belgium’s — includes an offense that appears to be comparable to rebellion, the main accusation against Puigdemont. It calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the republic’s existence or change its constitutional order.

Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists argue that their movement has been entirely peaceful. Separatists condemned Sunday’s street violence in Catalonia that led to 100 people, including 23 police agents, being treated for minor injuries.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office was informed Friday about the arrest warrant and the office’s liaison officer in Madrid was informed that Puigdemont might enter the country.

Schleswig-Holstein’s state interior minister, Hans-Joachim Grote, told NDR television that four other people who were in the car with Puigdemont were taken to a police station and then released. He didn’t identify them.

Dimroth said that, in “abstract terms,” Puigdemont could seek asylum in Germany because anyone can file such a request, but added that he couldn’t comment on the likelihood asylum would be granted or say whether Puigdemont had made any such request.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, Paul Bekaert, argued on VRT television that there was “flagrant abuse by Spain of the European arrest warrant for political purpose, which is totally illegal.” However, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin that “Spain is a democratic state of law.”

“The German government remains convinced that this Catalonia conflict must be resolved within the Spanish legal and constitutional order,” he said, noting Berlin’s support for the “clear position” of the Spanish government in recent months.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Catalonia’s Puigdemont to be brought before judge in Germany

March 26, 2018

NEUMUENSTER, Germany (AP) — Catalonia’s former president, Carles Puigdemont, was to be brought before a court in Germany on Monday for an initial hearing on whether he stays in custody, kicking off an extradition process that could take weeks.

The closed-doors hearing comes amid heightened tensions in the Spanish region following Puigdemont’s arrest on a European warrant Sunday at a highway rest area south of the German-Danish border. Tens of thousands protested late Sunday in Barcelona and other Catalan towns, and some demonstrators clashed with riot police.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont, 55, of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum on independence for Catalonia. Prosecutors in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein wouldn’t say where Monday’s hearing would take place, and the timing also wasn’t clear. The hearing will entail the court formally establishing Puigdemont’s identity and determining whether he is kept in custody on a preliminary basis, said Wiebke Hoffelner, a spokeswoman for prosecutors.

The state court in Schleswig will decide at a later date whether to put Puigdemont in formal pre-extradition custody on the basis of documents provided by Spain. German government officials have stressed that the case is a matter for the judicial system, but declined to say Monday whether the government could ultimately overrule a court decision.

European rules call for a final decision on extradition within 60 days of the suspect’s arrest, though a 30-day extension is possible, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Stephanie Krueger said. German news agency dpa said Puigdemont was taken to a prison in the town of Neumuenster on Sunday.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont’s government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.

The Catalan parliament’s subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities. Spain originally asked for Puigdemont’s extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation last week.

In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, in an effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement. The international arrest warrant for Puigdemont was reactivated on Friday, when he was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatists who fled the country.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Puigdemont wasn’t arrested earlier in his trip from Finland to Belgium. However, authorities examining a European arrest warrant need to check whether the offense a suspect is accused of committing is equivalent to a criminal offense in the country where he was arrested.

Germany’s criminal code — unlike Belgium’s — includes an offense that appears to be comparable to rebellion, the main accusation against Puigdemont. It calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the existence of the republic or change the constitutional order.

Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists argue that their movement has been entirely peaceful. Separatists condemned Sunday’s street violence in Catalonia that led to 100 people, including 23 police agents, being treated for minor injuries.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office was informed Friday about the arrest warrant and, in parallel, the office’s liaison officer in Madrid was informed that Puigdemont might enter the country.

Schleswig-Holstein’s state interior minister, Hans-Joachim Grote, told NDR television that four other people who were in the car with Puigdemont were taken to a police station and then released. He didn’t identify them.

Dimroth said that, in “abstract terms,” Puigdemont could seek asylum in Germany because anyone can file such a request, but added that he couldn’t say anything about the likelihood of him being granted asylum or whether Puigdemont had made any such request.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, Paul Bekaert, argued on VRT television that there was “flagrant abuse by Spain of the European arrest warrant for political purpose, which is totally illegal.” However, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin that “Spain is a democratic state of law.”

“The German government remains convinced that this Catalonia conflict must be resolved within the Spanish legal and constitutional order,” he said, noting Berlin’s support for the “clear position” of the Spanish government in recent months.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Catalan ex-leader’s capture in Germany sparks mass protests

March 25, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Five months after going on the run from Spanish authorities, Catalonia’s former president was detained in Germany on an international warrant Sunday by highway police after the ardent separatist crossed the border with Denmark.

Carles Puigdemont’s capture, aided by Spanish intelligence services, sparked protests of tens of thousands in Catalonia’s main city of Barcelona and other towns in the wealthy northeastern corner of Spain. Some of the demonstrators clashed with riot police, leaving more than 50 civilians and police officers injured and leading to four arrests. Puigdemont will appear before a German judge on Monday.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont’s government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.

The Catalan parliament’s subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities that they say won’t be lifted until a new government that respects Spain’s Constitution is in place.

Spain’s state prosecutor office said it was in contact with its German counterparts to carry out its request to extradite Puigdemont to Spain, where he faces charges including rebellion that could put him in prison for up to 30 years.

In Barcelona, riot police shoved and struck protesters with batons to keep an angry crowd from advancing on the office of the Spanish government’s representative. Police vans showed stains of yellow paint reportedly thrown by protestors. Reinforcements were called in after several hours to clear the neighboring streets, with protestors tossing street barriers and burning two garbage bins as they retreated.

Outside the city center, groups of demonstrators cut off traffic on four different stretches of highways. Police also used batons to keep back a crowd of a few thousand who had gathered in front of the Spanish government’s representative in the city of Lleida.

German highway police stopped Puigdemont on Sunday morning near the A7 highway that leads into Germany from Denmark, police in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said. German news agency dpa said that Puigdemont was taken to a prison in the northern town of Neumuenster. Dpa photos showed a van with tinted windows believed to be carrying Puigdemont as it arrived at the prison. Video footage also showed the same van leaving a police station in Schuby near the A7 highway.

State prosecutors in Schleswig said that Puigdemont will appear in court Monday in the northern German town to confirm his identity. It said in a statement that “the question of whether Mr. Puigdemont has to be taken into extradition custody will then have to be determined by the higher regional court in Schleswig.”

German state prosecutor Ralph Doepper told RTL Television that Puigdemont has been “provisionally detained. He has not been arrested.” “We are now examining the further procedure, i.e. tomorrow we will decide whether we will file a provisional application for detention with the competent district court, which could lead to extradition detention later on,” Doepper said.

A Spanish police official told The Associated Press under customary condition of anonymity that Spain’s National Center for Intelligence and police agents from its international cooperation division helped German police to locate Puigdemont.

A Spanish Supreme Court judge reactivated an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday when he was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatist who fled the country.

Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the pro-Spain Citizens party which has the most seats in Catalonia’s Parliament, said that the chaos on the streets was “of a society broken in two” by the secessionist movement.

Arrimadas said: “Puigdemont knew that fracturing Catalan society into two parts, spending public money on illegal activities, provoking a political and institutional crisis without precedents and confronting a 21st-century democracy of the European Union was going to have consequences.”

But the Catalan parliament speaker, the highest-ranking elected official in the region until it forms a government, made a televised address on Catalan public television to call for a united “democratic front” of political parties, labor unions and civil society organizations to respond to what he called “the thirst for revenge of the powers of the state.”

Speaker Roger Torrent accused Spain’s central authorities of “attacking the heart of democracy making a general cause against its political adversaries.” Miquel Coca, a business owner in Barcelona, likewise vowed that the secession push wouldn’t falter.

“All the negative inputs that we have received help us to unite the society even more,” Coca said. “If we can’t have this leader, well, then there will be another. This is a movement of the people, not of one person.”

Polls show Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are equally divided over secession, although a majority support holding a legal referendum on the issue. Puigdemont, 55, is a former journalist and mayor of Girona who was thrust to the forefront of Catalonia’s independence push when he was handpicked by predecessor Artur Mas to become regional president in 2016. He withstood intense political pressure from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Spain’s courts as he piloted the secession bid.

Spain had originally asked for Puigdemont’s extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation this week. Llarena ruled that a total of 25 Catalan separatists would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience.

In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, as part of his effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement. Puigdemont was also able to successfully run a campaign as the head of his “Together for Catalonia” bloc in a regional election in December in which separatist parties maintained their slim majority in Catalonia’s regional parliament.

All told, Puigdemont has become enemy No. 1 of Rajoy’s conservative government and Spain’s justice system. He had wanted to be re-elected as Catalonia’s regional president — albeit while remaining abroad to avoid arrest — but eventually was stopped by a Spanish court.

Separatists in Catalonia are currently trying to elect a leader for the regional government before a two-month time limit is up and new elections are called. Spain’s Constitution says the nation is “indivisible” and any changes to its top law must be made by its national parliament in Madrid.

Nine people who promote Catalan secession have been placed in pre-trial custody to prevent what Llarena considered a flight risk or intention to continue with independence efforts. Also, Spain’s highest judicial authority condemned insults that appeared painted on the street near a house owned by Llarena in the Catalan town of Das. They called the Supreme Court judge a “fascist” and wrote the message that he is “not welcome in Das or anywhere.”

Scottish police said Sunday that the lawyer of Clara Ponsati, a former Catalan regional minister also being sought by Spain, had been in contact and is preparing to be handed over to authorities. She had moved to Scotland from Belgium earlier this month.

Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Aritz Parra in Madrid, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, contributed to this report.

Tag Cloud