Saturday 22 September 2018

Deposed Catalan head 'accepts new regional election'

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont speaking in Brussels: Photo: Reuters
Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont speaking in Brussels: Photo: Reuters

Robert-Jan Bartunek

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont said yesterday he accepted the snap election called by Spain's central government after Madrid took control of the region to block its push for independence.

Mr Puigdemont, speaking at a news conference in Brussels, also said he was not seeking asylum in Belgium after Spain's state prosecutor recommended charges for rebellion and sedition be brought against him. He would return to Catalonia when given "guarantees" by the Spanish government, he said.

Mr Puigdemont's announcement that he would accept the regional election on December 21 confirmed that the Madrid government had gained the upper hand in the protracted struggle over Catalonia, for now at least.

Resistance to Madrid's imposition of direct control on Catalonia failed to materialise at the start of the week, and the secessionist leadership is in disarray.

Spain's constitutional court yesterday blocked the unilateral declaration of independence made by the regional parliament on Friday, a move that gained no traction and led to its dismissal less than an hour after it was made.

"I ask the Catalan people to prepare for a long road. Democracy will be the foundation of our victory," Mr Puigdemont said.

The Spanish government has said Mr Puigdemont was welcome to take his chances and stand in the December 21 election, called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as a way to resolve the stand-off.

The political crisis, Spain's gravest in the four decades since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, was triggered by an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1. A day after he arrived in Brussels, Mr Puigdemont told a packed news conference he would return home "immediately" if a fair judicial process was guaranteed in Spain.

He dismissed speculation he would seek political asylum in the Belgian capital.

"Here we have better guarantees for our rights and we can meet our obligations from here," he said at the Brussels Press Club, which is next to the European Union's headquarters.

Mr Puigdemont said he and his team will stay in Brussels and "continue our work despite the limits imposed on us".

The Spanish government has cracked down on Mr Puigdemont's attempt to take Catalonia, a wealthy region of some 7.5 million people, out of Spain.

The government says Mr Puigdemont flouted the constitution by holding an independence referendum.

The Catalan parliament approved a motion declaring independence last week, but the Spanish constitution says Spain is "indivisible".

Spain's chief prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against Mr Puigdemont and his number two, Oriol Junqueras, before Spain's National Court.

Separately, he is seeking similar charges before the higher Supreme Court for six ex-members of the governing body of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament, because they enjoy a degree of immunity and could only be tried by this court.

Irish Independent

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