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Posts tagged ‘Uprising in Catalonia’

Huge rally in Barcelona demands jailed separatists’ release

November 11, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people backing Catalonia’s bid to secede from Spain packed the streets in downtown Barcelona Saturday to demand the release of jailed separatist leaders.

The rally’s grassroots organizers called for 10 prominent members of the secessionist movement in the northeastern Spanish region to be freed from prison. Eight former members of Catalonia’s dissolved Cabinet and two activists are in jail while Spanish authorities investigate their alleged roles in promoting an illegal declaration of independence last month in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

A separate court in Madrid granted bail on Thursday to another six Catalan lawmakers also being investigated over the secession push. “We want to tell the world that we want freedom for our prisoners and freedom for Catalonia,” Agusti Alcoberro, the vice president of grassroots group National Catalan Assembly, told the crowd in Barcelona, the region’s capital.

Barcelona’s police said 750,000 people attended the rally. Many of the protesters carried pro-independence “estelada” flags, with its white star and blue triangle superimposed over the traditional red-and-yellow Catalan colors. Many also held signs saying in Catalan “Freedom Political Prisoners” and wore yellow ribbons as a symbol of their demands.

“They (Spanish authorities) are violating many rights of freedom against our people and we come here to say that we are against that and to demand the release of our prisoners who are in prison unjustly,” said 30-year-old engineer Joan Carles Roses.

Family members of the jailed separatists read messages from their loved ones to the crowd at the conclusion of the march. Also on Saturday, the pro-independence Republic Left party announced that its jailed leader Oriol Junqueras will be its top candidate for the upcoming regional elections on Dec. 21. The Catalan party is including other jailed leaders in its list for the regional parliament. Polls show that Republic Left is favored to win the upcoming ballot, although it won’t secure an outright majority.

The Catalan conflict is the worst constitutional crisis to threaten Spain in nearly four decades. A day after Catalonia’s Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on Oct. 27, Spain’s government activated extraordinary powers given to it by the Senate to fire the region’s government, dissolve its parliament and call local elections.

While those separatist leaders now in jail obeyed a summons to appear in court in Madrid, deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers fled to Belgium, where they now await an extradition hearing to return them to Spain.

Addressing the rally in Barcelona via a video message shown on a large screen, Puigdemont said: “We need you all to be very active. We want to hear your voice, both those of us in Brussels and those in prison.”

Puigdemont and his fellow separatists claim that a referendum on secession held on Oct. 1 gave them a mandate for independence, even though it had been prohibited by the nation’s highest court, failed to meet international standards and was boycotted by anti-independence parties. Less than half of the electorate turned out to vote, and the referendum was also disrupted by brutal police raids.

No foreign power has recognized Catalonia’s claim to independence. The European Union has warned that an independent Catalonia would be cast out of the 28-nation bloc. The most recent regional elections and opinion polls show that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are roughly split over remaining a part of Spain or going their own way. Most pro-independence supporters feel that the Catalan language and culture would have a better chance of flourishing in a separate state and that their economic prospects would be improved.

The business sector has so far not been convinced, with over 2,000 companies transferring their headquarters out of the northeastern region in recent weeks for fears of being pushed out of the common EU market.

The Spanish Constitution says the nation is “indivisible” and that questions of national sovereignty should be addressed by the national Parliament in Madrid.

AP television producer Hernan Munoz contributed to this report.

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Catalonia strike is muted but protesters block roads, trains

November 08, 2017

MADRID (AP) — A general strike in Catalonia was muted Wednesday, but pro-independence protesters blocked roads and stopped trains in Spain’s northeastern region to protest the jailing of ousted Catalan government officials and secessionist activists.

Big traffic jams were reported on roads leading to Catalan cities, including the regional capital Barcelona, and on major highways. But the strike wasn’t backed by Spain’s two main unions and wasn’t reported to be having any major effect on industry or in the region’s prized tourism sector.

National railway operator Renfe said services were halted on dozens of local lines as protesters blocked railway lines. Several national high-speed lines were also affected. In northern Girona, several protesters pushed past police controls to enter the city’s main railway station. Later, dozens of others occupied the tracks.

Intersindical CSC, a platform of pro-independence workers’ unions, had called the strike for labor issues. But separatist parties and civil society groups asked workers to join the stoppage to protest the Spanish government’s moves against the Catalan bid for independence.

At mid-day, several thousand pro-independence protesters packed a central square in Barcelona, waving separatist flags and chanting “Freedom” for the 10 people in custody in a judicial probe into rebellion and sedition in the days before and after Catalonia’s parliament ignored Spanish court rulings and declared independence Oct. 27.

Six hours later, thousands gathered again to keep up the pressure on the Madrid-based national government. Some shouted, “Free the political prisoners.” Agusti Alcoberro, the vice president of the grassroots Catalan National Assembly told the midday crowd the arrests were “an attack on democracy and a humiliation” of Catalan people.

Spanish authorities took the unprecedented step of seizing control of Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, after a majority of regional lawmakers there ignored Constitutional Court orders and passed an independence declaration on Oct. 27.

Spain removed the regional government, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for next month. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday the elections should open “a new political era” in the region with the return to normality and respect for Spain’s laws.

Eight members of the dismissed Catalan Cabinet and two activists were sent to jail as a Spanish court studies possible charges of rebellion and sedition against them. Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and four of his aides have fled to Brussels, where they are fighting Spanish arrest and extradition orders.

Their presence in the European capital is sowing divisions within the Belgian government. Some Belgian lawmakers have criticized Prime Minister Charles Michel for not taking tougher action against Puigdemont, and others complain that the Catalan leader’s presence was inflaming Flemish separatists in Belgium.

Speaking to Belgian lawmakers on Wednesday, Michel refused to comment on Puigdemont’s political actions, saying that his case must be handled by judicial authorities alone. “Mr. Puigdemont is a European citizen who must be held accountable for his actions just like any other European citizens — with rights and obligations but no privileges,” he said.

Michel also stressed that the Spanish government remains his partner. Catalonia, with 7.5 million people, represents a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product and polls show its people roughly evenly divided over independence. Puigdemont claimed a banned Oct. 1 secession referendum gave it a mandate to declare independence.

Lorne Cook reported from Brussels. Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this story.

Spain seeks rebellion charges against fired Catalan leaders

October 30, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s state prosecutor said Monday that he would seek charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against members of Catalonia’s ousted secessionist government, pushing the crisis over the region’s independence declaration into an uncertain new phase.

Chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza said he would ask judges for preventive measures against the politicians and the governing body of the Catalan parliament that allowed a vote to declare independence last week. He didn’t specify if those would include their immediate arrest and detention before trial.

The rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, respectively. It wasn’t immediately clear when judges would rule on the prosecutors’ request.

Maza didn’t name any of those facing charges, but they include regional leader Carles Puigdemont, his No. 2 Oriol Junqueras and Catalan parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell. The announcement came as Catalonia’s civil servants returned to work for the first time since Spain dismissed the separatist regional government and imposed direct control.

In addition to the sedition charges, Spain’s government has said the fired leaders could be charged with usurping others’ functions if they attempt to carry on working. Puigdemont traveled to Brussels, according to a Spanish government an official who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be named in media reports. The trip came after Belgian Asylum State Secretary Theo Francken said over the weekend that it would be “not unrealistic” for Puigdemont to request asylum.

The uncertainty over Puigdemont’s whereabouts and his plans continued the game of political cat-and-mouse with which the Catalan leader has tormented the central government. Also Monday, Puigdemont’s party indicated it is ready to fight in the Dec. 21 early regional election called by the national government, scotching fears the pro-independence parties might boycott the ballot to deny it legitimacy. The center-right PDeCAT party vowed to defeat pro-union political forces in Catalonia.

As dozens of journalists, curious onlookers and bemused tourists gathered in the square outside the Gothic government palace in central Barcelona, residents expressed confusion about who was actually in charge of Catalonia.

“I don’t know — the Catalan government says they are in charge, but the Spanish government says they are,” said Cristina Guillen, an employee in a nearby bag shop. “So I have no idea, really. “What I really think is that nobody is in charge right now,” she said.

At least one portrait of Puigdemont was still hanging on a wall inside the Catalan government’s Generalitat building. At least one member of the ousted government defied his dismissal by showing up at work and posting a photo on Twitter from his formal office.

“In the office, exercising the responsibilities entrusted to us by the people of Catalonia,” said Josep Rull, who until last week was the region’s top official in charge of territorial affairs. Two police officers entered and left the building, followed minutes later by Rull, who told reporters and supporters that he would continue carrying out his agenda.

But there were no official events listed on the regional government’s public agenda that is published online daily. Meanwhile, the two separatist parties in the former Catalan governing coalition held separate meetings to decide their next move.

Spanish authorities say deposed officials will be allowed to take their personal belongings from official buildings, but are barred from performing any official duties. Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said Monday that the government was giving the separatist politicians “a few hours” of time because the goal was “to recover normality in a discreet way and under the principle of minimal intervention” from central authorities.

Catalonia’s regional parliament proclaimed independence from Spain in a secret ballot Friday. The Spanish government dissolved the legislature, fired the government and regional police chief and called a new election for Dec. 21.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Sunday that Puigdemont would be eligible to run in the election, provided he is not imprisoned. “I don’t know what kind of judicial activity will happen between now and Dec. 21. If he is not put in jail at that time I think he is not ineligible,” Dastis told The Associated Press, speaking before prosecutors announced they were seeking charges.

The vote to secede came after an Oct. 1 referendum in favor of independence that was deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Puigdemont has vowed peaceful and “democratic opposition” to his Cabinet’s dismissal, but he hasn’t clarified if that means accepting an early regional election as a way out of the deadlock.

Separatist parties and grassroots groups have spoken of waging a campaign of disobedience to hamper the efforts by central authorities to run the region. A key factor will be how Catalonia’s estimated 200,000 public workers react to their bosses’ dismissal, and whether any stay away from work in protest.

Secession moves by this wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million have tipped Spain into its deepest crisis in decades. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands took part in an anti-independence demonstration in Barcelona, calling for Catalonia to remain in Spain and backing Rajoy’s use of unprecedented constitutional powers to wrest control from the pro-independence regional administration.

Spanish financial markets rose Monday after a poll suggested more Catalans oppose the declaration of independence than support it. The Ibex 35 stock index was up 1.4 percent at 10,338 points, about as much as it had fallen on Friday. Spanish government bonds were also higher.

Jill Lawless in Barcelona, and Carlo Piovano in London, contributed to this story.

Spanish PM to unveil measures to fight Catalan separatists

October 20, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister says his government will unveil specific measures Saturday to halt Catalonia’s independence bid but refused to confirm if that included plans to hold a regional election in January.

The opposition Socialists are supporting the conservative government’s effort to rein in the country’s deepest political crisis in decades. The Socialists’ main negotiator, Carmen Calvo, said earlier Friday that an early election in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia had been agreed upon as part of the deal.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, commenting on the unprecedented constitutional step his government is taking to assume control of Catalonia, said on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels that “the goal is double: the return to legality and the recovery of institutional normalcy.”

The move is likely to further inflame tensions between Spain and Catalonia’s pro-independence activists. Catalonia’s government says it has the mandate to secede from Spain after it held a disputed referendum on Oct. 1. It certainly does not want a new regional election.

The central government will hold a special Cabinet session on Saturday to begin activating Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which lets central authorities take over all or some of the powers of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions.

The measure, which has never been used since democracy was restored after Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, needs to be approved by the Senate. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, so it should pass easily as early as Oct. 27.

Spain’s government has also agreed on the move with the center-right, pro-business Citizens party, Rajoy told reporters in Brussels. King Felipe VI, meanwhile, threw his weight behind efforts to block Catalan independence, saying at a public event Friday night that Catalonia “is and will be an essential part” of Spain.

“Spain will deal with this unacceptable attempt at secession by using the Constitution,” Felipe said in a speech in Oviedo, in northern Spain’s Asturias region. Although not officially on the agenda of a European Union summit Friday, the Catalan crisis was the main topic in Brussels corridors. Rajoy has insisted the political deadlock is a domestic Spanish affair but acknowledged that it was a cause of concern for his fellow EU leaders.

He accused the Catalan separatist authorities of acting against the rule of law and democracy and said: “This is something that goes directly against the basic principles of the European Union.” European leaders have supported Rajoy in Spain’s escalating conflict with the separatists.

“We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said. Offering his “full, entire support,” French President Emmanuel Macron blamed extremist forces for “feeding” on separatism as a kind of division within Europe and a “factor of destabilization.”

Meanwhile, some bank customers in Catalonia withdrew symbolic amounts of money to protest financial institutions that have moved their official headquarters from Catalonia to other locations in Spain amid the political crisis.

The pro-independence umbrella group Cry for Democracy called on consumers to put pressure on banks that made the decision. By Friday morning, dozens of people were lining up at a CaixaBank branch in downtown Barcelona, most of them withdrawing 150 or 160 euros from ATMs — the closest amounts to Article 155 of the constitution.

CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, the largest Catalan lenders, are among nearly 1,000 financial institutions and businesses that have moved their official registration out of Catalonia in the past few weeks.

“These banks are traitors,” said Oriol Mauri, a 35-year-old owner of a children’s game business in Barcelona. “They need to see that it’s lots of us who are angry.” Mauri, who withdrew 150 euros, said he wasn’t worried about businesses fleeing Catalonia.

“I’m not afraid of economic repercussions,” Mauri said. “Our power as consumers is perhaps the only way to influence and have our voice heard in Europe.” Ana Coll, a 55-year-old pharmacist who withdrew 160 euros, said peaceful street protests haven’t been enough to influence the decision-makers in Spain and Europe.

“We need to step up our actions and do something that really hurts, and that is targeting the money,” she said. But not everybody saw the measure as productive. “This is like shooting yourself in the foot. It’s not going to solve anything” said 42-year-old consulting firm worker Oscar Garcia, who compared the action to “the tantrum of a kid who doesn’t get what he wants.”

Ousted Catalan leader vows peaceful resistance to Spain

October 28, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s ousted leader called for peaceful opposition to Spain’s decision to take direct control of the region, saying Saturday that he and other regional officials fired by the central government will keep “working to build a free country.”

Carles Puigdemont’s comments, made in a recorded televised address that was broadcast as he sat in a cafe in his hometown of Girona, were a veiled refusal to accept his Cabinet’s dismissal as ordered by central authorities.

They came a day after one of the most tumultuous days in Spain’s recent history, when Catalan lawmakers in Barcelona passed a declaration of independence Friday for the prosperous northeastern region, and the national parliament in Madrid approved unprecedented constitutional measures to halt the secessionist drive.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved the regional parliament and called a new regional election to be held on Dec. 21. In his televised statement, Puigdemont said only the regional parliament can elect or dismiss the Catalan government, vowing to “continue working to build a free country.”

“The best way we have to defend the achievements to date is the democratic opposition to the application of Article 155,” Puigdemont said in reference to the constitutional clause that gave Madrid direct control of affairs in Catalonia.

Despite his defiant tone and the use of the official Catalan government emblem, the Catalan and European Union flags but no sign of the Spanish one, some political commentators saw his mention of “democratic opposition” as laying the groundwork for political campaigning for the regional election in less than two months.

“Our will is to continue working to fulfill the democratic mandates and at the same time seek the maximum stability and tranquility,” Puigdemont said. Separatists argue that a controversial victory in a banned Oct. 1 referendum legitimizes them to split from Spain.

Andrew Dowling, a specialist in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales, said the statement was “vague and imprecise, certainly not like the president of a new country.” “They have led 2 million Catalans to believe in independence, so it’s a big problem to tell them now that it’s actually difficult to build a state when Spain has the upper hand of the law on its side,” Dowling said. “They are trapped by their own rhetoric.”

After Spain’s central authorities made the takeover official early Saturday, Puigdemont and the 12 members who until Saturday made up the Catalan Cabinet are no longer paid. Spain’s government has said they could be charged with usurping others’ functions if they refuse to obey, which could throw the region into further turmoil by prolonging a monthlong standoff.

In comments that were met late Friday with jeers and whistles of disapproval by secession supporters in Barcelona, Rajoy said the declaration of independence “not only goes against the law but is a criminal act.”

Spanish prosecutors say top Catalan officials could face rebellion charges as soon as Monday. Refusing to comment on Puigdemont’s televised address, Rajoy’s office said on Saturday that his actions will be a judicial affair from now on and that the Dec. 21 election would be the way “to return dignity to the Catalan institutions.”

It’s not clear at all whether a new election would solve Spain’s problems with separatists in Catalonia. Polls suggest pro-independence parties would likely maintain their slim advantage in parliamentary seats but wouldn’t get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Beyond any possible resistance from top Catalan officials, it’s unclear how Rajoy’s government in Madrid will be able to exert its control at lower levels of Catalonia’s vast regional administration. Catalonia had secured the ability to govern itself in many areas, including education, health and policing, since democracy returned to Spain following the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

Some among Catalonia’s roughly 200,000 civil servants have said they will refuse to obey orders from Madrid. They risk being punished or even fired under the special powers granted to central authorities by the nation’s Senate on Friday.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria will be Rajoy’s point person in running Catalonia until the new regional election. She will coordinate other ministries that take over functions of Catalonia’s regional departments, including finances and security, and appoint officials to implement orders from Madrid.

In one of the first moves, Spain’s Interior Ministry published an order to demote Josep Lluis Trapero from his position as head of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police in Catalonia. He was allowed to remain as commissar, but he later released a statement saying he was resigning from the force.

Trapero became a divisive figure as the public face of the police response in mid-August to deadly extremists’ attacks in and near Barcelona. He was praised for effectiveness but also criticized for coordination problems with other national police forces.

Spain’s National Court is also investigating him as part of a sedition probe related to the banned Oct. 1 independence referendum, when the regional police were seen as acting passively — not aggressively — to halt the vote deemed illegal by a top Spanish court.

Trapero’s boss, regional police director Pere Soler, said in a statement that he accepted his firing by central authorities in Madrid.

Catalans protest sedition case, court declares vote illegal

October 18, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s top court ruled Tuesday that an independence referendum in Catalonia was unconstitutional, adding weight to government efforts to block the region from breaking away from the rest of the country but not persuading demonstrators demanding the release of two jailed separatist activists.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling was not a surprise. The Spanish government had repeatedly insisted the referendum was illegal. Regional leaders defied the Madrid-based central government and held the Oct. 1 vote even after police seized millions of ballots and used force to close polling stations.

Supporters of secession maintain the “Yes” vote won and Catalan officials have a mandate to declare independence. Portraying the central government as repressive, they showed no signs of giving up despite the court ruling that concluded the referendum was invalid.

Thousands of people holding candles and banners flooded a main avenue in Barcelona on Tuesday night to demand the release of the two Catalan activists jailed by Spanish authorities on possible sedition charges a day earlier.

Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, are being investigated for organizing rallies last month that allegedly hampered a judicial probe of preparations for the secession vote.

“We are facing an executive power in the state that uses the judiciary branch to block the legislative,” Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters shortly after the Constitutional Court ruling was announced.

Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala said Sanchez and Cuixart, were jailed because they are suspected of committed crimes by interfering with a judge’s orders. Catala rejected the term “political prisoners” to describe the two, saying it could be considered a case of “politicians in prison.”

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont made an ambiguous statement about the region’s future last week, saying he has the mandate to declare independence but adding that he would not immediately move to implement it in order to allow time for talks with the central government.

Spain has said that no dialogue can take place with independence on the table because a reform of the country’s Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament is the only legal way to achieve secession.

On Monday, a Madrid judge provisionally jailed Sanchez and Cuixart, leaders of different grassroots groups promoting independence for Catalonia. The judge ruled they were behind huge demonstrations Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona that got in the way of a police operation designed to prevent the referendum.

Participants in the Tuesday protest chanted, “Political prisoners, freedom.” Meanwhile, Agusti Alcoberro, the man who standing in for Sanchez as head of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana, said peaceful protests would be the local response to what he said was the Spanish government’s heavy-handed approach.

“No modern state in the 21st century can survive if it bases its legitimacy on subjugating politically and dominating part of its population with the police and military,” Alcoberro told The Associated Press. “That is suicidal, and somebody should explain it to the Spanish government.”

Ciaran Giles contributed from Madrid. Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal also contributed.

Catalonia: New protests after secession leaders jailed

October 17, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Protesters are gathering for a fresh round of demonstrations in Barcelona to demand the release of two leaders of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement who were jailed in a sedition probe.

A Madrid judge on Monday provisionally jailed Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural. The judge ruled they were the orchestrators of massive demonstrations Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona that hindered a police operation against preparations for the Oct. 1 independence referendum.

Protests have been called at midday Tuesday in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and an evening demonstration is also planned. Thousands of supporters, carrying posters reading “Freedom for the political prisoners” banged pots and pans and honked car horns in Barcelona following the jailing Monday.

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