Europe refuses to blame police for 'shocking' violence at vote
The European Commission refused yesterday to condemn Spanish police violence against supporters of Catalan independence in Barcelona, as it expressed "trust" in the leadership of Spain's prime minister.
Madrid's Guardia Civil fired rubber bullets into crowds and stormed polling stations as the violence escalated during Sunday's illegal referendum vote. More than 800 were left injured after the clashes, resulting in increasing calls for the EU to intervene.
The top United Nations human rights official called on Spanish authorities to investigate thoroughly and impartially violence linked to Catalonia's independence referendum, and to hold talks to resolve the secession issue.
Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, said that the EU had a duty to protect the fundamental rights of those who voted.
"The EU commission may say this is just an 'internal affair', but basic rights have been violated," he said in Barcelona after calling for the EU to sponsor political dialogue on the crisis. Mr Puigdemont announced the creation of a special commission to investigate the police violence, and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the thousands of National Police and Guardia Civil deployed to Catalonia ahead of the vote.
He appeared to step back from an immediate declaration of independence, however.
"We do not want a traumatic rupture," the Catalan leader said, on the eve of a general strike called by pro-independence groups and unions to raise pressure on Madrid.
Protests were staged across Catalonia yesterday over the police crackdown, at which a team of international observers led by Dr Helena Catt, a Scottish election expert, said it had been "shocked".
"We witnessed events that no election monitors ought to ever witness," the team said as it condemned "violations of civil and human rights".
The European Commission - self-styled "guardian" of human rights - ignored calls to intervene in the crisis until noon yesterday. It then issued a statement that appalled those who had hoped for the bloc's intervention. "Under the Spanish constitution, yesterday's vote in Catalonia was not legal," Margaritis Schinas, the commission's chief spokesman, said, referring to the suspension of the vote by Spain's constitutional court.
The government in Madrid continued to insist yesterday that Catalan leaders had forced the police crackdown, and vowed it would not flinch in its bid to prevent what it has described as a coup in Spain's richest region.
Rafael Catala, the Spanish justice minister, threatened the invocation of Article 155 - to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia - if its leaders declared independence. "[Article] 155 is there, we are going to use the full force of the law," he insisted, even if "it could hurt us to use determined measures."
Mr Schinas refused to explicitly condemn the violence by Spanish police, saying only: "We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics.
"We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein."
The statement came in contrast to calls from the Organisation for Security and Co-ordination in Europe (OSCE), which demanded that Spanish authorities refrain from using excessive force and ensure that "any measures taken by law-enforcement agencies in the course of their duties respect fundamental rights to freedom of peaceful assembly." (© Daily Telegraph, London)