Monday 16 September 2019

Puigdemont calls for Catalan coalition in election as protests mount over imprisonment of politicians

United: Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont. Photo: AP
United: Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont. Photo: AP

Paul Day and Omar Younis in Madrid and Barcelona

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has called for a united political front in the December 21 election to continue the drive for independence from Spain and to protest the imprisonment of former members of the regional government.

Puigdemont, who went to Belgium after his government was fired following the unilateral declaration of independence, said last Friday he was considering standing in the election from Brussels.

However a leader of one of Catalonia's largest pro-independence parties says party members will only participate in upcoming regional elections if Spanish authorities release jailed Catalan separatists.

Republican Left secretary- general Marta Rovira said yesterday that for the party to field candidates in the December election "it would be necessary that all the political prisoners are released from prison".

Republican Left president Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president in the Catalonia government, is among the removed officials who have been in a Madrid prison since last Thursday.

In Spain's gravest political crisis since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the snap election after taking control of Catalonia a week ago.

Political parties that wish to run on a common platform have until Tuesday to register any potential coalition and until November 18 to put forward their candidates.

"It is time for all democrats to join together. For Catalonia, for the freedom of political prisoners and for the republic," Puigdemont said in a tweet that included the hashtag, a site calling for parties to unite against the Spanish government at the ballot box.

Signatures on the website rose to more than 27,000 from just 2,000 within a couple of hours of Puigdemont's tweet yesterday morning.

In a poll published last Tuesday, the pro-independence coalition Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) was seen winning in December with 35.2pc if the vote was held immediately. That would return a parliamentary majority to independence supporters if the group stuck with its current pact with far-left party CUP.

The wealthy north-eastern region continues to be evenly split between those who support leaving Spain and those who wish to remain part of the country, according to a range of polls taken since the declaration of independence.

If pro-independence parties run on different tickets, it may be difficult for them to win a parliamentary majority, though the imprisonment of former government members may help unite an electorate already wary of Madrid's tactics, seen by many as heavy- handed.

Pro-Spain candidates including Rajoy's People's Party (PP), the Socialists and market-friendly Ciudadanos were out canvassing yesterday with modest rallies in the region calling for the so-called silent majority to vote en masse in December.

Last Thursday, nine members of Puigdemont's sacked cabinet were ordered by Spain's High Court to be held on remand pending an investigation and potential trial. One member of the dismissed cabinet, Santi Vila, was released on Friday after paying bail of €50,000. The other eight could remain in custody for up to four years.

Last Friday, Spain issued an arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont and four associates to answer charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to their secessionist campaign.

Catalan civic groups Asamblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural - whose leaders were imprisoned last month on sedition charges - have called for a general strike on Wednesday and a mass demonstration next Saturday to protest the detentions. Puigdemont has said he would not return to Spain until he has been given unspecified "guarantees" by the Spanish government. Following the warrant, any extradition process could take up to 45 days according to the Belgium Federal Public Prosecutor's Office.

Belgian justice minister Koen Geens said his government will have no influence over the future of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont or four other Catalan officials because the European arrest warrant issued by Spain "is a completely legal procedure".

He said, unlike a normal international extradition, "the executive power does not play any role in the EAW procedure. Everything goes through direct contact between the justice authorities".

© Reuters


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