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Catalan leader urged to definitively declare independence

October 13, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Pressure is mounting from within the Catalan separatist movement on Friday for the regional president to declare independence from Spain once and for all, a move that could prompt the central government to take over the region’s powers of self-governance.

Two key allies in the secessionist bid are joining voices from within the ruling pro-independence coalition urging regional leader Carles Puigdemont to ignore Spain’s warnings and lift the suspension on his ambiguous secession proclamation earlier this week.

In a highly anticipated parliamentary speech, Puigdemont said that Catalonia was proceeding with a declaration of independence after an Oct. 1 referendum, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for the possibility of negotiations with Spain.

Spain considers the referendum to be illegal and unconstitutional, and says its results are invalid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has rejected any possibility of dialogue unless Puigdemont backtracks and returns “to legality.” He has also said that Spain doesn’t need international mediators in the political deadlock.

Rajoy’s government gave Puigdemont a Monday deadline to clarify whether he really declared independence. If Puigdemont says he did, then he will have three more days to cancel any secession plans. If he refuses to, or doesn’t answer, Rajoy has threatened to trigger for the first time a constitutional article that could give central authorities power to intervene directly in Catalonia.

The far-left separatist Catalan party CUP said in a letter dated Friday that Puigdemont should ignore the Spanish government’s warning, lift the suspension and definitively proclaim independence. The Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC, a civil society group that organized massive protests in support of secession, also issued a brief statement with a similar message.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep the suspension of the independence declaration” given Madrid’s rejection of any dialogue, ANC said in the statement. Some politicians of the two parties in the ruling coalition have also expressed similar views on social media, with only a few of them calling for calm. The Catalan government hasn’t given any signal of what it intends to do.

Years of growing separatist sentiment erupted on Oct. 1 when Catalan leaders held the banned referendum despite court rulings and a fierce opposition from Spain. About 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the region’s electorate — voted amid police violence to halt the referendum. Catalonia said 90 percent favored secession and it declared the results valid. Opponents boycotted the vote.

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Morocco rejects Catalonia’s secession bid

2017-10-11

CASABLANCA – Rabat rejected Catalonia’s secession bid and expressed its commitment to Spain’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity, according to statement issued Wednesday by Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Morocco called Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont’s decision to proceed with the secession “a source of instability and division not only in Spain but throughout its European neighborhood.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took the first step on Wednesday towards suspending Catalonia’s political autonomy and ruling the region directly to thwart a push for independence.

He demanded that the regional government clarify whether it now considered itself independent following a speech by Puigdemont on Tuesday night during which he said that he would proceed with the secession but would suspend it for a few weeks to facilitate negotiations.

This requirement is a necessary step before triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which would allow Madrid to suspend the region’s political autonomy.

“Morocco is confident in the ability of the Spanish government to wisely manage this situation with a view to preserving the constitutional order and to act in the supreme interest of the Spanish Nation and the European Continent,” said the statement.

“Consequently, Morocco does not recognize this unilateral process which runs against the international legality,” it added.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85347.

Spain warns it will act if Catalonia declares independence

October 09, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned anew Monday that Spain will not be divided by a declaration of independence from Catalonia and said the government is ready to respond to any such attempt.

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont plans to address the Catalan parliament on Tuesday evening to debate the current political situation. Separatist politicians say there will be a declaration of independence for the northeastern region of 7.5 million during that session, although some ruling coalition lawmakers say the move could be simply “symbolic.”

Still, Rajoy was being as explicit as possible in warning that the national government in Madrid would not stand for such a declaration. “Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will do everything that legislation allows us to ensure this,” Rajoy told the German newspaper Die Welt. “We will prevent this independence from taking place.”

Secession-minded authorities in Catalonia have vowed to break away from Spain after claiming victory in a disputed independence referendum earlier this month. The Oct. 1 vote has been followed by mass protests of Catalans angered by police violence as authorities tried to stop the vote and, more recently, by others in Catalonia and Madrid urging the unity of Spain.

Yet politicians supporting Puigdemont’s minority government and civil society groups backing independence say they will not accept anything less than a full declaration of independence. “Credibility and dignity suggest making the declaration of independence tomorrow,” Jordi Sanchez, the head of the civil group National Catalonia Assembly, said Monday.

A lawmaker with the Catalan CUP party told the Associated Press that the the far-left separatists won’t accept anything short of a declaration of secession. “It’s very clear to me that those who I represent won’t accept any other scenario,” Benet Salellas said during an interview at the regional parliament.

Puigdemont has not clarified what his intentions are. Rajoy’s deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, also warned that Spain would act decisively if there was any independence declaration. “If they declare independence, there will be decisions to restore the law and democracy,” she said on Monday during a radio interview.

She called for members of the Catalan government “who still respect democracy and freedom to refrain from jumping into the void.” Catalonia’s top judicial official, meanwhile, ordered additional Spanish police protection for the headquarters of the regional judiciary.

The regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force, whose hierarchy reports to the Catalan government, had been in charge until now of guarding the palace in central Barcelona that hosts the judiciary. But the High Judiciary in Catalonia says its president, Jesus Barrientos, has asked the chief of the National Police force in the region to join in the protection of the building. The statement says a declaration of independence, even if illegal under Spanish laws, could trigger the suspension of the judiciary and the ouster of its president.

On Sunday, a massive protest in Barcelona showed the strength of Spanish unionists in Catalonia, as thousands marched with the Spanish national flag that had been absent until now in the regional debate.

They chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Puigdemont to go to prison for holding the banned referendum. Catalan authorities say the “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, although only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was marred by police raids of polling stations.

Rajoy has said the central government could take control of the governance of the Catalan region. “The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions, but for that to happen there will have to be some rectifications (by Catalan leaders),” Rajoy said this weekend.

Rajoy’s government had repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on grounds that it is unconstitutional, since it would only poll a portion of Spain’s 46 million residents.

Catalonia’s separatist camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain’s recent economic crisis and by Madrid’s rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.

Spanish unionists find their voice in huge Barcelona rally

October 08, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish unionists in Catalonia finally found their voice on Sunday, resurrecting Spain’s flag as a symbol of patriotism after decades of it being associated with the Franco dictatorship.

In a defiant challenge to plans by Catalonia’s regional government to unilaterally declare independence, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Barcelona in a surprising outpouring of Spanish unity.

They chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for regional president Carles Puigdemont to go to prison for holding an illegal referendum last week. Some of the demonstrators took to rooftops, including families with children, and leaned over ledges from their perches overlooking the streets below to wave giant Spanish flags in a city accustomed to the prevalence of the Catalan pro-independence “estelada.”

Spain’s red-and-yellow flag has long been taboo here in Catalonia and throughout the country because it has been linked to groups supportive of Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. But on Sunday, a sea of Spanish flags, interspersed with some Catalan and European Union flags, dominated Barcelona’s boulevards.

Barcelona police said 350,000 people participated, while march organizers Societat Civil Catalana said that 930,000 people turned out. The march was peaceful and no major incidents were reported. Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence and is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday “to report on the current political situation.” In the days after the Oct. 1 referendum, the momentum appeared to be on his side. Pro-independence protests were attracting large numbers and he benefited politically from a violent crackdown by Spanish police during the referendum voting.

But now the tide seems to be turning. Catalonia’s top two banks announced they were relocating their headquarters to other parts of Spain because of financial uncertainty if there is an independence declaration. Other companies are reportedly considering leaving Catalonia to avoid being cast out of the EU and its common market in the case of secession.

And Sunday’s mass demonstration by pro-unity Catalans, under the slogan of “Let’s recover our common sense!” will put further pressure on Puigdemont. The march was the largest pro-unionist showing since the rise of separatist sentiment in the prosperous northeastern region that has pushed Spain to the brink of a national crisis.

The rally comes a week after the Catalan government went ahead and held a referendum on secession that Spain’s top court had suspended and the Spanish government said was illegal. Catalan authorities say the “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, though only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was marred by police raids of polling stations on orders to confiscate ballot boxes.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows that his government will not allow Catalonia, which represents a fifth of Spain’s economy, to break away from the rest of the country. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.

Rajoy said that includes the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow the central government to take control of the governance of a region “if the regional government does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution.”

“The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions, but for that to happen there will have to be some rectifications (by Catalan leaders),” Rajoy said. Rallies were held Saturday in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to demand that Rajoy and Puigdemont negotiate to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades.

“I hope that nothing will happen. Because (Catalonia) is going to lose more than (Spain) because businesses are fleeing from here already,” said protester Juliana Prats, a Barcelona resident. “I hope it will remain like it has been up until now, 40 years of peace.”

The rally drew Spaniards from outside the northeastern region to the Catalan capital. One group held a large banner boasting “Marbella,” a town on Spain’s southern coast. An AP reporter spoke with another man who had come from the northern Basque Country region.

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and former president of the European Parliament Josep Borrell addressed the rally. “Besides Catalans, there are thousands of men and women from all corners of Spain who have come to tell their Catalan companions that they are not alone,” said Llosa, who took on Spanish citizenship in addition to that of his native Peru in 1993. “We want Barcelona to once again be the capital of Spanish culture.”

Borrell added that: “Catalonia is not a state like Kosovo where rights were systematically violated.” The most recent polls taken before the referendum showed that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents were roughly split over secession, while a majority would support an official referendum on independence if it were condoned by Spanish authorities

Rajoy’s government has repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on grounds that it is unconstitutional since it would only poll a portion of Spain’s 46 million residents. Catalonia’s separatists camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain’s recent economic crisis and by Madrid’s rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.

Frank Griffiths contributed from London.

Member of Catalan govt wants ‘cease-fire’ with Spain

October 07, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A member of Catalonia’s separatist-led government has called for a “cease-fire” with Spain to decrease tensions after a disputed referendum on independence by the prosperous region.

Santi Vila, Catalonia’s regional chief for business, told Cadena SER Radio late Friday that he’s pushing for “a new opportunity for dialogue” under “a cease-fire” with Spanish authorities. Vila says he is against Catalonia unilaterally declaring independence at this moment and wants to see a committee of experts from both sides be created to work toward a solution to the political crisis.

Separatists say they won the Oct. 1 referendum, but Spain says the vote was illegal, invalid and unconstitutional. Less than half of the electorate cast ballots in the referendum which has marred by a brutal police crackdown.

Catalan leader wants parliament speech amid independence bid

October 06, 2017

MADRID (AP) — Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Friday asked to address the regional parliament next week amid growing challenges for his government to deliver on its pledge to declare independence for the prosperous northeastern region in Spain.

A disputed independence referendum in Catalonia last Sunday has led to Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades, with the government condemning the vote as illegal, unconstitutional and invalid. Puigdemont’s separatist ruling coalition for the region suffered a setback Thursday when Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended a Monday session of regional lawmakers assessing the vote’s results. Some lawmakers had said that Puigdemont would declare Catalonia independent then.

Puigdemont says the vote is valid despite a Constitutional Court ban on holding it and the fact that only 40 percent of the region’s 5.5 million eligible voters turned out amid strong police pressure to shut down the vote. Catalan officials say 90 percent of those who did vote favored independence.

Spain’s conservative government, which is under political and social pressure after police violently tried to halt the banned vote, has rejected any dialogue with Catalan officials unless they drop plans for secession.

Puigdemont has asked now to address the regional parliament on Tuesday to “report on the current political situation.” The speakers’ board of Catalonia’s regional parliament was to meet Friday afternoon, likely to discuss the request.

Spain’s main stock index, meanwhile, was slightly down at the end of morning trading Friday, with Catalan banks leading losses amid uncertainty of what’s next in the regional independence bid. In Madrid, Spain’s National Court unconditionally released two senior officers of Catalonia’s regional police force and the leaders of two pro-independence civic groups who are being investigated for sedition in connection with the referendum.

The four are to be questioned again in coming days, once the court studies a report by the Civil Guard police about incidents surrounding the referendum. The case is linked to demonstrations on Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona, when Spanish police arrested several Catalan government officials and raided offices in a crackdown on preparations for the referendum..

The four being investigated are Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, president of separatist group Omnium Cultural.

After being questioned for about an hour, Trapero left the courthouse to applause by Basque and Catalan party representatives and insults from bystanders. Sanchez also answered questions related to his defense.

“I ask strongly that the Spanish government, the national parliament and the head of state (the king) understand that time and the hours are very important to find a debated solution and give way to a political solution,” Sanchez said.

Laplana, who had remained in Barcelona, declined to testify for medical reasons while Cuixart refused to testify, saying he didn’t recognize the court’s capacity to question him for a crime he didn’t commit.

Spanish authorities say the demonstrations hindered the Spanish police operation, and that Catalan police didn’t do enough to push back protesters blocking Spanish police officers from leaving a building. Two police cars were vandalized and officers were caught inside the building for hours.

Ahead of Friday’s hearing, Catalan pro-independence supporters, including politicians, stood outside as Trapero, Sanchez and Cuixart walked into the National Court. Carles Campuzano, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Catalonia, described the hearing as an outrage, saying that the demonstrations last month can in no way be considered illegal.

“It’s just another expression of the absolutely mistaken, authoritarian, repressive response by the (Spanish) state to the pacific, democratic and civic demand of Catalan society,” he told reporters. On Thursday, Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered Catalonia’s parliament to suspend a planned session next week during which separatist lawmakers plan to declare independence.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Puigdemont to cancel plans for declaring independence in order to avoid “greater evils.”

Parra reported from Barcelona. Frank Griffiths contributed from London.

Trump says Spain should stay united, opposes secession vote

September 26, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Spain should stay united, branding as “foolish” a looming secession vote by one of the country’s regional governments. “I think that Spain is a great country and it should remain united,” Trump said at a news conference following White House talks with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “We’re dealing with a great, great country and it should remain united.”

Trump said he’s been watching the situation unfold in the region of Catalonia, whose leaders have vowed to hold a referendum Sunday on independence from Spain. Spain’s central government says such a vote would be illegal.

“I can say only, speaking for myself, I would like to see Spain continue to be united,” Trump said when asked about the referendum, which is challenging Rajoy’s leadership. Rajoy called the situation “just crazy” and said a referendum cannot be held because no one in the Catalan government is organizing it. He said the issue is causing division and heightening tensions in Spain.

“I want this to be resolved as soon as possible and I want us to go into a new stage where the rule of law, dialogue and common sense will prevail,” Rajoy said. Trump didn’t answer directly when asked later what advice he offered Rajoy on the issue, but said he thinks the people of Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, would stay with Spain.

“I bet you if you had accurate numbers and accurate polling, you’d find that they love their country, they love Spain and they wouldn’t leave, so I’m just for a united Spain,” Trump said. “I really think the people of Catalonia would stay with Spain. I think it would be foolish not to, if you’re talking about staying with a truly great, beautiful and very historic country.”

Trump also offered prayers and support to those affected by deadly attacks last month that killed 16 people in Barcelona and a nearby town. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. “I want to assure the people of Spain that America stands with you in confronting this evil that threatens all of humanity,” Trump said. “We will continue to deny the terrorists their funding, their territory, and any form of support for their wicked ideology.”

Trump had said earlier Tuesday that the U.S. and Spain are allies in the fight against terrorism, saying they share notes and intelligence. He also thanked Spain at the news conference for contributing to a coalition of nations working to defeat IS, including training more than 30,000 members of the Iraqi security forces.

Rajoy said he told Trump that Spain would increase its commitment by contributing a new financial package to help rebuild Iraq.

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