Catalan head says already feels like the president of a free country


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Catalan head says already feels like the president of a free country

Catalonia will move to declare independence from Spain on Monday.

WORLD Updated: Oct 04, 2017 21:26 IST

Reuters, Barcelona/Madrid
President of the Catalan regional government Carles Puigdemont (2R) and Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police on September 10.
President of the Catalan regional government Carles Puigdemont (2R) and Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police on September 10.(AFP File Photo)

Catalonia will move on Monday to declare independence from Spain following October 1’s banned referendum as the European Union nation nears a rupture that threatens the foundations of its young democracy.

Mireia Boya, a Catalan lawmaker from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, said on Twitter that a declaration of independence would follow a parliamentary session on Monday to evaluate the results of the vote to break away.

“We know that there may be disbarments, arrests … But we are prepared, and in no case will it be stopped,” she said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont earlier said he would ask the region’s parliament to declare independence following the poll, which Spain’s government and constitutional court say was illegal and in which only a minority of Catalans voted.

“This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and therefore we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week,” he told the BBC in remarks published on Wednesday.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Puigdemont said he already felt like “a president of a free country where millions of people have made an important decision”.

He said the Madrid government’s refusal to negotiate had left Catalonia “no other way” than to declare independence and accused it of authoritarianism.

“The Spanish government is letting political opponents be arrested, it is influencing media and blocking Internet sites. We are under observation day and night,” Puigdemont said.

“What is that other than an authoritarian state?”

Spain was only restored to democracy following the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco, under whom the Catalan language and traditions were suppressed.

The constitutional crisis in Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-biggest economy, has shaken the common currency and hit Spanish stocks and bonds, sharply raising Madrid’s borrowing costs.

The cost of insuring against potential losses on Spanish bank debt and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese sovereign debt has also jumped, suggesting an impact on the wider euro zone.

Bank stocks were hit especially hard as the Ibex stock index, fell below 10,000 points on Wednesday for the first time since March 2015. In a sign of the nervous public mood, Catalonia’s biggest bank, Caixabank, and Spain’s economy minister had earlier sought to assure bank customers that their deposits were safe.

Influential Catalan business lobby Cercle d’Economia said it was extremely worried by the prospect of Catalonia declaring independence and called for both sides to start talks.

“Such a declaration would plunge the country into an extraordinarily complex situation with unknown, but very serious consequences,” the group said in a statement.

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Evening statement

Puigdemont’s comments appeared after Spain’s King Felipe VI accused secessionist leaders on Tuesday of shattering democratic principles and dividing Catalan society, as tens of thousands protested against a violent police crackdown on Sunday’s vote.

The Catalan leader is due to make a statement at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday.

Spain has been rocked by the Catalan vote and the Spanish police response to it, which saw batons and rubber bullets used to prevent people voting. Hundreds were injured, in scenes that brought international condemnation.

Catalans came out onto the streets on Tuesday to condemn the police action, shutting down traffic, public transport and businesses, and stoking fears about intensifying unrest in a region that makes up one-fifth of the Spanish economy.

Road closures related to the protests briefly halted production at Volkswagen’s Catalonia plant. Stoppages also affected production at Nestle’s instant coffee plant in Girona.

“As a businessman, as a Spaniard and as a person, I am very worried and I am scared by what’s going on (in Catalonia),” said Juan Roig, chairman of Spain’s biggest food retailer Mercadona.

“Irresponsible behaviour”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hard line on Catalan independence faces a huge challenge to see off the issue without further unrest and potential damage to his minority government.

Pro-independence parties which control the regional government staged the referendum in defiance of a Constitutional Court ruling that the vote violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible.

Catalonia has its own language and culture and a political movement for secession that has strengthened in recent years.

Participants in Sunday’s ballot — only about 43 percent of eligible voters — opted overwhelmingly for independence, a result that was expected since residents who favour remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the referendum.

Outside Catalonia, Spaniards mostly hold strong views against its independence drive. In his televised address, the king said the “irresponsible behaviour” of the Catalan leaders had undermined social harmony in the region.

“Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said. “They (the Catalan leaders) have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state.”

The king said the crown was strongly committed to the Spanish constitution and to democracy, and underlined his commitment to the unity and permanence of Spain. He had earlier met Rajoy to discuss the situation in Catalonia.

Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested a minority of around 40 percent of residents in the region backed independence. But a majority wanted a referendum to be held, and the violent police crackdown angered Catalans across the divide.

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