Wednesday 12 December 2018

Crisis as Catalan leaders call for 'peaceful defiance' of Madrid

Catalans gathered in Barcelona celebrate the unilateral declaration of independence (AP)
Catalans gathered in Barcelona celebrate the unilateral declaration of independence (AP)

Arrita Parra

fired leaders will continue "working to build a free country", its ousted separatist president said yesterday, as he called for peaceful opposition to Spain's imposition of direct rule in the region.

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 after one of the most tumultuous days in Spain's recent history, as Catalan lawmakers in Barcelona passed a declaration of independence 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 December 21.

In his televised statement, Mr Puigdemont said only the regional parliament could 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," Mr 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 fulfil the democratic mandates and at the same time seek the maximum stability and tranquillity," Mr Puigdemont said. Separatists argue that October's referendum with 43pc turnout allows them split from Spain.

Andrew Dowling, a specialist in Catalan history, said the statement was "vague and imprecise, certainly not like the president of a new country".

"They have led two 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," Mr Dowling said. "They are trapped by their own rhetoric."

After Spain's central authorities made the takeover official yesterday, Mr Puigdemont and the 12 former members of the Catalan Cabinet are no longer being paid.

Spain's government has said they could be charged with usurping others' functions if they refuse to obey.

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 month-long standoff.

In comments that were met with jeers and whistles 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.

It's not clear at all whether a new election will solve Spain's problems with the Catalan secessionists. Polls suggest pro-independence parties would likely maintain their slim advantage in parliamentary seats but wouldn't get more than 50pc of the vote. Which would leave the future of Catalonia - and of Spain - hanging in the balance.

Sunday Independent

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