Thursday 19 October 2017

Catalan president pulls back from brink on independence

Declaration is signed but put on hold for more talks

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont signs a declaration of independence at the regional parliament in Barcelona. Photo: Getty
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont signs a declaration of independence at the regional parliament in Barcelona. Photo: Getty

James Badcock in Madrid

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader, and other regional politicians signed a document declaring Catalonia's independence from Spain last night, but suspended its implementation as they pushed for talks with Madrid.

"Catalonia restores today its full sovereignty," says the document, called "declaration of the representatives of Catalonia". It was unclear if the document would have any legal value.

"We call on all states and international organisations to recognise the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state. We call on the Catalan government to take all necessary measures to make possible and fully effective this declaration of independence and the measures contained in the transition law that founds the republic."

Mr Puigdemont earlier said in a speech that Catalonia's relationship with Spain was "unsustainable".

The Spanish government last night called an emergency cabinet meeting for today.

Spain's constitutional court had judged that the October 1 independence referendum, which had a turnout of just 42pc, was illegal. The plebiscite saw ballot boxes hidden from the authorities and was marred by violence from the Spanish police, who fired rubber bullets at Catalans.

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"We have won the right to be an independent country," Mr Puigdemont said in a speech to parliamentarians at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona yesterday. "The ballots say yes to independence and this is the will I want to go forward with.

"As the president of Catalonia I want to follow the people's will for Catalonia to become an independent state," he said to applause. "I ask for the mandate to make Catalonia an independent republic."

In recognition of the fact that the government of Spain has declared the secession process to be entirely illegitimate, Mr Puigdemont added that the implementation of independence should be "suspended for a few weeks to open a period of dialogue".

The Catalan leader was under pressure to back down after the EU backed Spain and its prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Mr Puigdemont's pleas for the EU to mediate between Barcelona and Madrid fell on deaf ears, with Brussels insisting the referendum was illegal and that it was an internal matter for Spain.

Threats by banks and local businesses to pull out of the region, as well as pro-unity demonstrations in Barcelona may also have helped convince Mr Puigdemont to step back from the brink.

"Catalonia is a European issue," Mr Puigdemont said, adding that the EU should defend its democratic values after seeing how Spanish security forces had acted in an effort to carry out a court order to prevent the referendum.

"This was the first time in Europe that an election took place with the police beating people as they tried to cast their vote."

EU leaders had urged Mr Puigdemont not to unilaterally declare independence. Earlier yesterday, European Council President Donald Tusk addressed him directly in a speech in Brussels: "The force of arguments is always better than the argument of force."

Decision

"Today I ask you to respect - in your intentions - the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible."

Before a meeting of the EU's Committee of the Regions, Mr Tusk said: "Let us always look for what unites us and not for what divides us. This is what will decide the future of our continent."

Mr Puigdemont's declaration in Barcelona was made an hour later than expected. Reports claimed the delay was caused by international offers at mediation between Catalonia and Spain.

The opposition leader in Catalonia described Mr Puigdemont's claim that he has a mandate to declare independence from Spain as "a coup" and said it had no support in Europe. Ines Arrimadas of the Ciudadanos party said the majority of Catalans feel they are Catalans, Spanish and European and that they won't let regional officials "break their hearts".

A spokesperson for the Spanish government last night said it did not accept any validation of the banned referendum or 'implicit' independence declaration. (@ Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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