Thursday 19 September 2019

Spain will not be divided, says defiant Rajoy

Madrid fears declaration of independence is imminent

A man wearing a Spanish flag gives ‘free hugs’ in central Barcelona. Photo: Reuters/
Ivan Alvarado
A man wearing a Spanish flag gives ‘free hugs’ in central Barcelona. Photo: Reuters/ Ivan Alvarado

Hannah Strange and Aritz Parra

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned that Spain will not be divided by a declaration of independence from Catalonia and said the government was ready to respond to any such attempt.

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont plans to address the Catalan parliament this evening. Separatist politicians say there will be a declaration of independence for the region, although some legislators in the ruling coalition say the move could be simply "symbolic". Mr Puigdemont has not clarified what his intentions are.

Mr Rajoy warned that the national government in Madrid would not stand for such a declaration.

He told the German newspaper 'Die Welt': "Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will prevent this independence."


Nevertheless, politicians supporting Mr Puigdemont's minority government and separatist groups say they will not accept anything less than a full declaration of independence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pledged to maintain unity. Photo: Bloomberg
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pledged to maintain unity. Photo: Bloomberg

Mr Rajoy's deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria also warned that Spain would act decisively if there was any independence declaration.

"If they declare independence, there will be decisions to restore the law and democracy," she said and called for members of the Catalan government "who still respect democracy and freedom to refrain from jumping into the void".

Meanwhile, Catalonia's top judicial official has ordered additional Spanish police protection for the headquarters of the regional judiciary.

Jesus Barrientos has asked the chief of the national police force in the region to join in the protection of the building.

His statement said a declaration of independence, even if illegal under Spanish laws, could trigger the suspension of the judiciary and the ousting of its president.

On Sunday, a massive protest in Barcelona showed the strength of Spanish unionists in Catalonia, as thousands marched with the Spanish national flag that had been absent until now in the regional debate.

They chanted "Don't be fooled, Catalonia is Spain" and called for Mr Puigdemont to go to prison for holding the banned referendum.

Catalan authorities say the "Yes" side won the referendum with 90pc of the vote, although only 43pc of the region's 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was marred by police raids of polling stations.

Meanwhile, France will not recognise Catalonia if its government unilaterally declares independence, its European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau has warned.

"If there were to be a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral and it would not be recognised," Ms Loiseau said on CNews television, calling for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

The minister also reiterated warnings that a Catalan Republic would find itself shunned by Brussels.

"If independence were to be recognised - which is not something that is being discussed - the most immediate consequence would be that (Catalonia) automatically left the European Union," she said.


French President Emmanuel Macron had already made his position clear in the wake of the referendum in a telephone conversation with the Spanish prime minister, in which he expressed firm support for the "constitutional unity" of Spain.

The French position chimes with that of the European Commission, which has consistently thrown its weight behind the Spanish government.

But it has come under pressure from many MEPs, who have expressed revulsion at the violent crackdown by Spanish police on the day of the banned referendum.

Yesterday, the Council of Europe joined the United Nations in calling for an independent investigation into the violence, which left up to 900 people injured. (©Daily Telegraph, London and agencies)

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