Spain Will Remove Catalonia Leader

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced that fresh regional elections would take place in Catalonia within six months. CreditGabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BARCELONA — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia’s independence drive took its most serious turn on Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

It was the first time that Spain’s government had moved to strip the autonomy of one of its 17 regions, and the first time that a leader had invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution — a broad tool intended to protect the “general interests” of the nation.

The unexpectedly forceful moves by Mr. Rajoy, made after an emergency cabinet meeting, thrust Spain into uncharted waters. The prime minister is trying to put down one of the gravest constitutional crises his country has faced since embracing democracy after the death of its dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

The steps were immediately condemned by Catalan leaders and risked further inflaming an already volatile atmosphere in the prosperous northeastern region. On Oct. 1, thousands braved national police wielding truncheons to vote in a contentious independence referendum for Catalonia, even after it was declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts.

“There’s nothing soft or limited about what he announced today,” Josep Ramoneda, a political columnist, said of Mr. Rajoy. “We’re entering a very delicate phase, in which an independence movement that appeared to be running out of options might now draw instead on a collective sense of humiliation at seeing Catalonia being forced under Madrid’s control.”

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Fueled by economic grievances and a distinct language and culture, aspirations for an independent state in Catalonia have ebbed and flowed for generations.

But the current confrontation has presented a vexing quandary not only for Spain but the entire European Union, pitting demands for self-determination against the desire to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an important member state.

Mr. Rajoy took the bold steps with broad support from Spain’s main political opposition, and will almost certainly receive the required approval next week from the Spanish Senate, where his own conservative party holds a majority.

He did so despite repeated appeals for dialogue and mediation by the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, whose independence drive has been shunned by wary European Union officials.

Mr. Rajoy said the Catalan government had never offered real dialogue but had instead tried to impose its secessionist project on Catalan citizens and the rest of the country in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

Photo

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, attended a protest in Barcelona on Sunday against the imprisonment of two Catalan pro-independence leaders. CreditIvan Alvarado/Reuters

He said his government was putting an end to “a unilateral process, contrary to the law and searching for confrontation” because “no government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed.”

Mr. Rajoy said he planned to remove Mr. Puigdemont, and the rest of his separatist administration from office. The central government was also poised to take charge of Catalonia’s autonomous police force and the Catalan center for telecommunications.

Mr. Rajoy did not ask to dissolve the Catalan Parliament, but instead said that the president of the assembly would not be allowed to take any initiative judged to be contrary to Spain’s Constitution for a period of 30 days, including trying to propose another leader to replace Mr. Puigdemont.

Mr. Rajoy said that his goal was to arrange new Catalan elections within six months, so as to lift the measures taken under Article 155 as soon as possible.

It’s unclear, however, how such elections would be organized or whether they would significantly change Catalonia’s political landscape, let alone help to resolve the territorial conflict.

Mr. Puigdemont led a mass demonstration of 450,000 people in Barcelona, the region’s capital, on Saturday afternoon.

Protests in Barcelona on Saturday Video by La Vanguardia

In a televised address late Saturday, Mr. Puigdemont said he would convene Parliament next week to discuss the response to Mr. Rajoy; he did not rule out using the session to declare independence. He accused the Spanish government of trying to “eliminate our self-government and our democracy.”

In a part of his speech delivered in English, Mr. Puigdemont also addressed Europe’s politicians and citizens and suggested Europe’s “foundational values are at risk” in the dispute with Madrid. “Democratically deciding the future of a nation is not a crime,” he argued.

Other Catalan separatist politicians warned that Mr. Rajoy’s announcement would escalate rather than resolve the conflict.

Josep Lluís Cleries, a Catalan Senator, told reporters on Saturday that Mr. Rajoy was suspending not autonomy in Catalonia but democracy.

Carme Forcadell, the separatist president of the Catalan Parliament, pledged on Saturday evening to defend “the sovereignty” of her assembly. “We will not take a step back,” she told a news conference. “Mr. Rajoy isn’t conscious that by attacking the institutions, he is attacking the society of this country.”

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Oriol Junqueras, the region’s deputy leader, said in a tweet that Catalonia was “facing totalitarianism” and called on citizens to join the Barcelona protest on Saturday.

Significantly, Iñigo Urkullu, the leader of the Basque region, which also has a long history of separatism, described the measures as “disproportionate and extreme,” writing on Twitter that they would “dynamite the bridges” to any dialogue.

Faced with Madrid’s decision to remove him from office, Mr. Puigdemont could try to pre-empt Mr. Rajoy’s intervention and instead ask Catalan lawmakers to vote on a declaration of independence in coming days.

Mr. Puigdemont could also then try to convene Catalan elections, on his own terms, to form what he could describe as the first Parliament of a new Catalan republic.

His government has been flouting Spain’s Constitution since early September, when separatist lawmakers in the Catalan Parliament voted to hold a binding referendum on independence, as a key step toward statehood. An alliance of separatist parties has controlled the Parliament since 2015, after winning regional elections, but with only 48 percent of the vote.

Should Mr. Puigdemont resist Mr. Rajoy’s plans, Spain’s judiciary could separately step in and order that he and other separatists be arrested on charges of sedition or even rebellion for declaring independence.

Rebellion carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Earlier this week, a judge from Spain’s national court ordered prison without bail for two separatist leaders, pending a sedition trial.

Using Article 155 “was neither our desire nor our intention,” Mr. Rajoy said on Saturday, but had become the only way to to return Catalonia to legality, normality and maintain a Spanish economic recovery “which is now under clear danger because of the capricious and unilateral decisions” of the Catalan separatist government.

Mr. Rajoy highlighted the decision of over 1,000 Catalan companies this month to relocate their legal headquarters outside the region, in response to the uncertainty generated by the possibility of a breakup with Madrid.

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Mr. Rajoy received strong backing from politicians from the main opposition parties, with the notable exception of Podemos, the far-left party that wants to use a referendum to convince Catalan voters to remain within Spain.

“We’re shocked by the suspension of democracy in Catalonia,” Pablo Echenique, a senior official from Podemos, said in a news conference on Saturday.

Party of billionaire Andrej Babis wins Czech election

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Party of billionaire Andrej Babis wins Czech election

Tycoon Andrej Babis, poised to become the next prime minister, has been dubbed the "Czech Trump" by some media outlets because of his business empire and populist leanings.

(CNN)Billionaire tycoon Andrej Babis was set to become the Czech Republic’s next prime minister after his ANO party won with a significant margin in the country’s general election on Saturday.

His ANO movement received more 30% of the vote — almost three times more than the conservative party ODS, which came in second.
With 78 seats, Babis will need at least two other coalition partners in order to form a government and secure a majority in the lower chamber of Parliament. The only other possibility is to create a government with ODS, which has already ruled out this scenario.
Babis has been dubbed the “Czech Trump” by some media outlets because of his business empire and populist leanings. In campaigning, he opposed further European Union integration and adoption of the euro, and took a hard line on accepting refugees, according to Reuters.
The far-right SPD party, led by Tokyo-born Tomio Okamura, which ran a virulent anti-immigration campaign, will also have 22 seats — eight more than in the previous election. His party also promised a friendly approach to Russia, a policy shared with the Communist Party, which saw the worst result since the independence of the country with a mere 8%.
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For the first time, the Pirate party will be represented in the Czech Parliament with 22 MPs, including the leader of the party, IT specialist Ivan Bartos.
ANO, which has been governing in coalition with the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, held a double-digit lead going into the vote, Reuters said.

Kenya’s Election Chief Fears Presidential Vote Won’t Be Credible

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Kenya’s election chief fears presidential vote won’t be credible

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati speaks to journalists in Nairobi in February.

Story highlights

  • Electoral commission head urges politicians from ‘both sides’ to stop interfering in process
  • Kenya’s Supreme Court ordered new election after invalidating results of August vote

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN)Kenya’s electoral commission chief warned Wednesday that he lacked faith in the possibility of Kenya delivering a free and fair presidential election next week — and pointed to political leaders as the greatest threat to a credible vote.

Wafula Chebukati’s comments come in the wake of the resignation of a senior member of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Roselyn Akombe, over security fears and alleged partisanship on the board.
“I want to issue a stern warning to the players of both sides to stop intentions to interfere in the process,” Chebukati told a news conference.
“Let my commission and I do our job and we shall deliver. Interfere as you have been doing and we will get stuck as a country.”
The IEBC chairman called for political leaders to hold a meeting to discuss issues around the October 26 rerun.

Raila Odinga would run for president again

Raila Odinga would run for president again 01:27
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The new vote was ordered after Kenya’s Supreme Court invalidated the results of a contentious August 8 election — which gave victory to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta — following a challenge over irregularities.
Chebukati warned that if the current political crisis is not resolved, the country risks finding itself in a situation “possibly worse” than in 2007 and 2008, when more than 1,000 people died in political violence that turned ethnic in nature.
“If we don’t cap this mess I fear for the future,” he said.
Chebukati insisted he had no plans to resign himself. “The politicians are the greatest threat,” he said. “I will not tolerate the threats on my staff any more.”
Since the Supreme Court ruling, Kenyatta’s main challenger for the presidency, opposition leader Raila Odinga, has pulled out of the rerun, saying that issues around the way the first election was run have not been resolved.
Opposition supporters have clashed with police, and the government has banned demonstrations in certain areas.

Akombe: Not too late to avert crisis

Former commission meber Akombe, in a statement issued Tuesday from New York, described the IEBC as “under siege” and said it could not guarantee a credible presidential election next week.
Fellow commissioners had become increasingly partisan, coming to meetings “ready to vote along party lines,” she said, and were unwilling to “be frank with the Kenyan people.”
Akombe said she had agonized over whether to quit, but had decided to do so because the commission had “become a party to the crisis” and lives were potentially at stake.
“It is not too late to save our country from this crisis,” she said. “We need just a few men and women of integrity to stand up and say that we cannot proceed with the election on (October 26) as currently planned.”

Police spray water cannons to disperse opposition protesters last week in Kisumu, Kenya.

Akombe highlighted concerns over last-minute changes to election-related technology and results transmission, rushed training of staff because of fears of protest violence and the intimidation of electoral commissioners and staff.
“We need the commission to be courageous and speak out, that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a credible election,” she said.

Roselyn Akombe, who resigned from Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, doesn't believe that next week's presidential election will yield a credible result.

“Our people are resilient. Our people are patient. What we are faced today is a political crisis that cannot be solved by the commission alone. Let us solve the political crisis we have at hand and then chart the way forward toward a credible presidential election.”
In an interview with the BBC, Akombe said she had received numerous threats while in Kenya and did “not feel safe enough to be able to go home.”

Unrest fears

Speaking with CNN on Friday, opposition leader Odinga said his coalition did not want to “facilitate another rigging of elections” by taking part in a process in which none of the issues that led to the annulment of the first vote were resolved.
He urged the replacement of some electoral commission personnel, among other changes.
The continued uncertainty has raised fears of wider unrest in the east African nation, which has suffered bloody election-related violence in the past, particularly in 2007-08.

Riot police use tear gas on opposition supporters during an October 11 protest in Nairobi.

Last week, the government called for a ban on demonstrations in the central business districts of Kenya’s three main cities — the capital Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu — citing security fears.
Police and opposition supporters have clashed in recent days in Nairobi, Kisumu and elsewhere. On October 11, police tried to deter opposition protesters from marching on the headquarters of the electoral commission in downtown Nairobi by firing bullets in the air and releasing tear gas.

Catalan Leader Proclaims Independence But Suspends It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Catalan leader proclaims independence but suspends it to allow talks with Madrid

The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy”.

WORLD Updated: Oct 11, 2017 00:18 IST

Reuters, Barcelona
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during a plenary session in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during a plenary session in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017. (REUTERS)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain but said its effects would be suspended to allow for talks with the Madrid government.

“I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic … I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution,” Puigdemont told the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Though Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown.

The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy” if the parliament of the autonomous and affluent northeastern region presses ahead.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could take the unprecedented step of dissolving the Catalan parliament and triggering new regional elections, the so-called “nuclear option”.

The Madrid government could also ask the courts to strike down a declaration of independence as unconstitutional.

Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.

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.

17 dead after protests in Cameroon English-speaking areas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTAN NEWS PAPER ‘DAWN’)

 

 

Cameroon police officials with riot equipment patrol along a street in the administrative quarter of Buea some 60kms west of Douala on October 1. — AFP
Cameroon police officials with riot equipment patrol along a street in the administrative quarter of Buea some 60kms west of Douala on October 1. — AFP

Cameroon’s military is heavily deployed in the country’s English-speaking regions and few people are on the streets after 17 people were killed over the weekend in protests in support of independence for some Anglophone regions.

Tens of thousands of English-speaking Cameroonians hoisted flags on Sunday to show that they want independence from the country’s French-speaking majority, defying security forces and bans for gathering in some areas.

Security forces shot dead 17 people in Cameroon during gatherings on the 56th anniversary of the incorporation of Anglophone regions into Cameroon, according to Amnesty International. The group expressed worry over the government’s “ongoing campaign to silence any form of dissent”.

The Northwest province on Friday banned meetings and travel for 72 hours.

The rights group called on security forces to cease unnecessary violence and called on protesters to be peaceful.

“The worrying escalation witnessed over the weekend has now reached a crisis point. The use of excessive force to silence protests in the west and southwest regions of Cameroon is not the solution,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.

“All deaths related to these protests must be promptly and effectively investigated.”

Local media had reported at least a dozen people killed in the English-speaking northwest and southwest regions, some shot by military helicopters, while at least 40 others were arrested, according to local media. Six soldiers were attacked and severely wounded, reports said.

No declarations were made by separatists, but protests have been ongoing since late last year with the country’s English-speaking population saying it is discriminated against by the majority French-speaking population.

Social media platforms such as WhatsApp have been blocked in the English-speaking regions and residents express fear about restrictions imposed by the government.

In Yaounde and all major towns in the French-speaking regions, political parties, lawmakers and the government organized rallies denouncing the separatist groups.

Lawmaker Tabe Tando from Cameroon’s English-speaking southwest region read a declaration at a mass rally organised by Cameroon’s senate and national assembly in Yaounde.

“The members of parliament condemn outright any action aimed at destabilising our beloved and beautiful country. Reaffirm their attachment to a Cameroon which is one and indivisible as enshrined in the constitution. Express their brotherly solidarity to the populations of the northwest and southwest regions, victims of the unscrupulous acts of enemies of the fatherland and peace,” it said.

Some experts called for dialogue to avoid ongoing tensions.

Schools have been closed in the northwest and southwest since November when lawyers and teachers called for a strike to stop what they believe is the overuse of the French language. Violence erupted when separatists joined in and started asking for complete independence.

President Paul Biya has made clear he is not open for any negotiations on separate states.

Catalonia’s Independence Vote Descends Into Chaos and Clashes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

The Spanish police blocked the entrance of a Barcelona school that was to be used as a polling station in the Catalan independence referendum on Sunday. CreditEmilio Morenatti/Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes.

Over the course of the day, the referendum took on an almost surreal cast. The voting went ahead in many towns and cities, with men and women, young and old, singing and chanting as they lined up for hours to cast ballots, even as confrontations with the police turned violent elsewhere.

The police, sent by the central government in Madrid from other parts of Spain, used rubber bullets and truncheons in some places. The clashes quickly spoiled what had been a festive, if expectant, atmosphere among voters, many of whom had camped inside polling stations to ensure that they would remain open.

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The Spanish police fired rubber bullets at Catalans trying to vote in Barcelona on Sunday.CreditEmilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Proponents of the referendum immediately pointed to the heavy use of police force as a blight not only on the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, but also on Spain’s still relatively young democracy.

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“The image of the Spanish state has reached levels of shame that will stay with them forever,” the leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, told a crowd in the town of Sant Julià de Ramis, the scene of clashes.

The Catalan vote has been watched with rising trepidation — and no sign of support — by a European Union wary of stoking forces of fragmentation already tugging at the bloc and many member states, where populist and nationalist parties have surged in recent elections.

Nationalism in Spain, a country with a long and painful 20th century history that included civil war and fascism, has been all but dormant since the coming of democracy after the death of the dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975. There are already signs that Catalonia’s threat to fracture the country is changing that.

Because of the tensions Sunday, F.C. Barcelona, the soccer club, played a match behind closed doors in its Camp Nou stadium, where the opposing Spanish team came with special uniforms emblazoned with the Spanish flag — something unusual here.

Yet none of the tensions or lack of support has dimmed aspirations for independence in Catalonia, a prosperous region with a distinct language, history and culture.

Yearnings for a separate state have ebbed and flowed for generations, but rose in recent years as Catalans complained that Madrid was unfairly siphoning off their wealth and denying them the right to choose their own political destiny.

The Madrid government, with the backing of Spanish courts, declared the referendum unconstitutional and ordered the vote suspended. But that did not stop Catalans from lining up before sunrise on Sunday, massing on rain-slicked streets in towns and cities across the region.

The turnout was an extraordinary show of determination in the face of a steady drumbeat of threats from Madrid. Though it was far from clear that Sunday’s vote would yield a reliable result, both sides quickly claimed victory — and victimization.

Spanish authorities accused the separatist government of irresponsibly encouraging voters to violate Spanish law and declared that the referendum had been successfully disrupted.

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Pro-referendum supporters blocked a gate to a polling station in Barcelona as members of the Spanish police arrived to control the area. CreditChris Mcgrath/Getty Images

The Catalan authorities maintained that balloting had proceeded in almost three-quarters of polling stations and seemed determined to use the vote as further evidence of the legitimacy of their claim for a separate nation.

Mr. Puigdemont, the Catalan leader, accused the Spanish government of using “unjustified and irresponsible” means to stop Catalonia’s voters, “with truncheons against ballot boxes.”

“Today, the Spanish state has lost a lot more than it had already lost, and Catalan citizens have won a lot more than they had won until now,” he said.

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spain’s deputy prime minister, later praised the Spanish police for blocking a vote that “couldn’t be celebrated and wasn’t celebrated.”

She told a news conference that the Catalan government had acted “with absolute irresponsibility, which had to be overcome by the professionalism of the security forces.”

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Some Catalans managed to cast ballots at a school in Barcelona on Sunday. CreditJon Nazca/Reuters

More than 460 people were injured in the crackdown and scuffling that ensued, according to Catalan officials, while a dozen Spanish police officers were wounded, according to Spain’s interior ministry.

Ada Colau, the left-wing mayor of Barcelona, called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign over his “cowardly” and unjustified police intervention.

“Today, we’re not talking about independence or not, but about a breakup between Mariano Rajoy and his government with Catalonia,” she told reporters.

Overnight, Catalans had used tractors to block police access to some rural municipalities so that the vote could go on. In other places, residents removed the doors of polling stations to ensure that the police could not bolt them on Sunday.

As Sunday approached, the Madrid government tried everything it could to thwart the referendum: disabling the internet, confiscating ballots, detaining some officials and threatening scores more with prosecution.

The Referendum

What’s at stake? Catch up on the election here.

  • Catalonia is voting on independence Sunday despite opposition from Madrid. What are the origins of the secessionist movement, and who is trying to block the vote?

The vote took place anyway in an atmosphere of cat and mouse and in improvised conditions, with a disputed census used as the voting list.

Catalan officials instead relied on privately printed ballots, and changed the voting rules an hour before polls were scheduled to open, to allow voters to cast a ballot at any poll station, without using an envelope and whether registered there or not.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, said the last-minute change turned what was already an illegal referendum into “a joke.”

Mr. Millo deplored the fact the national police were forced to take over from Catalan police officers who failed to stop the voting. “We’re being forced to do what we didn’t want to do,” he said.

Some videos posted on social media even showed arguments and some tussling between Spanish national police and the Catalan police.

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Protesters made a fascist salute during a demonstration in Barcelona by far-right groups against the Catalan referendum on Sunday. CreditPau Barrena/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Catalan police also intervened in Barcelona’s main downtown square to prevent clashes between separatists and a small group of far-right partisans of Spain.

A few outsiders had traveled to Catalonia from other countries to act as observers, saying they wanted to make sure that the police did not use force against voters.

Dimitrij Rupel, a former foreign minister of Slovenia, led a delegation of 35 foreign officials invited by the Catalan government. After watching the police intervene, he said that the “police have nothing to do with the democratic process — they shouldn’t be here.”

Others compared the situation in Catalonia with that in their own independence-minded regions, precisely what has concerned European Union officials and neighboring governments.

“Every person in the world should have the right to decide their present and future, which of course means the right to vote,” said Andrea Favaro, an Italian lawyer, who waited inside a polling station early on Sunday. Mr. Favoro is from the Veneto region that has held a nonbinding ballot on independence from Italy.

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Catalan police officers walked by people camping out at the entrance to a Barcelona elementary school, one of the designated polling stations for the independence referendum. CreditJon Nazca/Reuters

Recent opinion polls suggest that slightly less than half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million people support separation from Spain, but separatist parties won a majority in the region’s Parliament in 2015 and their influence has grown.

Many say Catalonia would face a perilous and uncertain future outside Spain, the market for most of the region’s goods, and would not be assured of being readmitted to the European Union.

Others complained that the thrust for independence had deepened divisions within the region, whose vibrant economy has attracted families from inside and outside Spain.

Olga Noheda, a doctor in Centelles, said one of her patients, an older man, began crying in her examination room, and explained that his granddaughter had begun expressing dislike for Spaniards.

“He was very sad, because he didn’t understand where it all came from,” she said. “He migrated to Catalonia many years ago, from Seville, and he was wondering if his granddaughter was aware that he was a Spaniard.”

Continue reading the main story

Photo

A tractor was used to block police access to a polling station in Sant Julià de Ramis. CreditDavid Ramos/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the vote, school principals had received letters threatening them with sedition charges, which carry a 15-year prison term, if they willingly allowed their buildings to be used as polling stations.

In one city, the local newspaper editor discovered he faced a criminal complaint after he printed a list of schools that would be holding votes.

Still, in some Catalan cities like Berga, people lined up to vote early, aware that the Spanish police could intervene later in the day. A car toured the city with a megaphone, calling on citizens to go to their polling stations “to defend the ballot boxes and democracy.”

In the southern port city of Tarragona, Emilia Roldan Cano, a 58-year-old sales assistant, was the first — and last — person to vote before police confiscated the ballot box at her polling station. She said she was pleased to have been among the many people who cast a ballot.

“I am Catalan and I love Catalonia,” said Ms. Roldan Cano, whose parents moved to the region from Andalusia in the 1950s, looking for work. “And now I like it more, seeing all that I see.”

With kids in tow, Catalonia’s pro-independence parents occupy polling stations in mass act of civil disobedience  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

With kids in tow, Catalonia’s pro-independence parents occupy polling stations in mass act of civil disobedience

 Play Video 3:17
Families occupy polling stations in Catalonia ahead of independence referendum
Parents and their children have occupied school buildings serving as polling stations in Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s planned independence referendum for the region to secede from Spain. (Raul Gallego Abellan/The Washington Post)
 September 30 at 5:50 PM
 In a mass act of civil disobedience, organized by WhatsApp groups, encrypted messages and clandestine committees, a small army of parents and their children occupied hundreds of polling stations across Catalonia on Saturday, hoping to thwart efforts by the central government to shut down an independence referendum that Madrid calls illegal.The remarkable occupation of elementary and high schools, which in Spain serve as polling stations, set the stage for an almost surreal confrontation between pro-independence Catalans and their central government.

The defenders of the vote were not trained cadres of activists, but ordinary, overextended and stressed parents from the neighborhoods, who carried babies on their hips and entreated rambunctious children to stop teasing their siblings.

As the occupiers were gulping coffee and sharing plates of pastries brought by volunteers, police units on Saturday started to sweep the schools to warn the parents that the buildings must be emptied by 6 a.m. Sunday, three hours before the controversial plebiscite is scheduled to begin.

Police have been instructed to clear the polling places but to use limited force.

 Play Video 4:28
‘We are not the silent majority anymore:’ Pro-Spain Catalonians make their voices heard
Catalonia is vowing to press ahead with a vote on Oct. 1 on whether to declare independence from Spain. The referendum has divided Catalonians, and the Spanish government has called it illegal. (Raul Gallego Abellan/The Washington Post)

As children in playgrounds ran around chasing soccer balls and scribbling with crayons in classrooms, their parents were huddled in the hallways, sneaking a quick cigarette, scrolling their cellphones and worrying.

“I would not deny that we are nervous, because we don’t know what is going to happen,” said Roger Serra, a parent who spent the night at Enric Casassas primary school here alongside about 50 others.

The people who came to occupy the buildings to defend the referendum were almost in disbelief, that in a prosperous, stable and globalized country in Europe in 2017, they suddenly found themselves at a modern-day version of the old barricades.

The families spent a restive night, watching Disney movies and curled in sleeping bags.

Catalonia’s secessionists, led by the region’s pro-independence president Carles Puigdemont, vow to press ahead with the vote in rebellion against the central government, in Madrid, and the Constitutional Court, which has declared the referendum illegal and the results, whatever they might be, illegitimate.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has moved thousands of national police and Guardia Civil militia into Catalonia to stop the plebiscite.

National security forces have confiscated more than 13 million ballots, shut down websites, arrested 14 functionaries and demanded that he region’s 700 mayors desist from supporting the vote.

On Saturday, national police took over the regional government’s telecommunications center in Barcelona. A court in Barcelona ordered Google to delete a mobile app the Catalan government was using to distribute information about how and where to vote.

Officials with the central government told reporters that police had secured some 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia used as polling stations. The same officials also said that activists had occupied 163 schools. Those figures could not be verified and were challenged by pro-independence activists who said many more schools were filled with supporters of Sunday’s vote.

The activists, who asked that their identities remain anonymous because their activities are deemed illegal, said it was also possible that even if normal polling places are closed, the vote could be staged down the block at another public building that someone has the key to.

“Can we vote, or not? For me the great question is who is going to bring the ballot boxes and ballot papers? Will they come from a hidden place, some clandestine, secret place, that could be in our town and from there they are going to distribute it? I don’t see how this will work,” said Victor Colomer, who spent the night in the school with his wife.

The regional government says it has printed millions of ballots and has stashed them around Catalonia, playing a cat-and-mouse game with police.

Alongside the hidden ballots are thousands of plastic tubs, marked with the Catalan regional government’s emblem, with numbered, red strips normally used to the secure the ballots after they are dropped in the boxes.

At a news conference, Catalan officials showed off one of the ballot boxes. Puigdemont told reporters that more than 6,000 were being cached.

One Catalan pro-vote activist told The Washington Post that the referendum would proceed “as normal as possible in an abnormal situation” — that citizens would go to their traditional polling station, usually a neighborhood school, show their identification card, be checked against the voter registries maintained by the regional government and cast their ballot — yes or no for independence.

After the vote, the volunteers would tally the count and report it to the regional government, which will announce the result.

But it is far from certain that this will happen as promised by Catalonia’s separatists.

The Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, told Sky News that there would be no real vote.

“There are no voting places, no ballot papers, no authorities to check the authenticity of the results,” Dastis said. “There may be some type of simulation of a vote in certain places and streets, but I don’t believe that there will be any referendum.”

Police have threatened not only to shut down the schools but also to issue large fines to anyone assisting an illegal vote.

The mayor of Sabadell, the fifth-largest city in Calalonia, said there were 54 polling stations here. He guessed that half were occupied by parents on Saturday.

“I cannot tell you how the people will vote. Many want independence, many don’t. Some are not so sure,” said Sabadell Mayor Maties Serracant, who declined a summons to appear before prosecutors last week.

“The situation is incredible,” the mayor said. “If you would have told me a few months ago that parents would be occupying this school to vote, I would have laughed.”

The potentially chaotic vote raises immediate questions of its legitimacy. Catalan officials have also sent mixed messages: Is the referendum binding? Or if the vote tilts toward independence, is it just the beginning of new round of negotiations with the central government?

Those who want an independent Catalonia often say they’ve never been a true part of Spain, that they belong to a unique region with its own language, history and culture. They say they have surrendered too much control — and too many euros in taxes — to the central government in Madrid.

Those who want to remain in Spain say the country is indivisible, that it is better to belong to “Big Spain” than “Little Catalonia,” a country that would hold just 7 million people.

Many, especially those who want to remain a part of Spain, said they were afraid to vote. Others said they would not enter a building illegally — or did not want to walk through a phalanx of police officers in riot gear.

“I think the vote is illegal. I don’t want to vote tomorrow. I will stay at home. It’s their game — we don’t want to play with them,” said Jarei Gual Navarro, an engineering student. “We Catalans have always been a part of Spain.”

There were demonstrations by pro-Spain voices in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon.

“This vote is not legal, not legitimate and not fair,” said Carlos Abril, a finance manager, who came out to wave a Spanish flag.

Abril called himself a proud son of Catalonia but said he opposes independence, which he calls disaster for the region. “No debate, police in the streets, lies, fear, violations, propaganda! Man, this is no way to stage a vote.”

Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.

 

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

Updated 11:08 AM ET, Fri September 29, 2017

Kirkuk, Iraq (CNN)Major Adnan Majeed stands in front of a cement wall scrawled with the names of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS. A mural of the Kurdish flag with a rising sun at its center, blanketed with specks of sand, forms the heart of this makeshift memorial.

It sits just steps away from the boundary of the would-be independent state of Kurdistan that Iraqi Kurds are seeking following the independence referendum this week.
“Whenever I pass through this memorial, I see the names of my friends and I feel sad,” says Majeed, head of this garrison in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Majeed says scores of his troops have been killed fighting ISIS.

A meters-long bridge was once all that separated the Peshmerga from ISIS here. Majeed says scores of his troops were slain at this outpost while repelling the terror group’s repeated attempts to take control of the area.
It took the Peshmerga a year — and air cover from the United States-led coalition — to push ISIS back. These days, the terror group is a more comfortable 4 kilometers away from the outpost, holed up in the town of Hawija, the group’s last stronghold in Iraq.
American-supplied mine-resistant vehicles, known as MRAPs, are parked outside the outpost, and some soldiers wear patches reading “Shoulder to Shoulder with the US” sewn into their fatigues. But although Kurdish forces here are trained and supplied by the US, they do not have America’s support in their bid for independence.

The view from a sandbag sentry position looks out at ISIS territory in the distance.

The outpost was supposed to be one of the staging grounds to retake Hawija, but that hasn’t happened yet. Since the referendum was carried out against the wishes of Baghdad, much of what pertains to the operation remains in flux. Majeed and his men expected Iraqi army units to arrive on Tuesday, but there’s no sign of them. The commander is still waiting.
“I’m here and ready,” Majeed said. “Why the Iraqi army aren’t here, I don’t know.”
An Iraqi armed forces spokesman told CNN the Peshmerga were never expected to play a key role in the push on Hawija. He wouldn’t comment further on the timeline of his force’s arrival, citing security concerns.
Iraqi forces and Shia paramilitary groups have almost completely encircled Hawija, with the exception of a path to Kirkuk from the west, which stretches out in front of the watchtower. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the second phase of the campaign against Hawija Friday.
Retaking Hawija raises the specter of a large military build-up of Iraqi troops — and their paramilitary counterparts — just outside the Kurdish outpost. It is here that the next chapter in Iraq’s war-weary history may erupt.
Kurdish fighters can sometimes see the fight from their sandbag sentry post on the hillside, as jets from the US-led coalition whizz overhead.
Their military position defends Kirkuk, an oil-rich city claimed by both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Baghdad has vehemently opposed the referendum, which was held across the KRG’s autonomous region and in disputed territories like Kirkuk.
Shortly before the referendum results were announced, Iraq’s parliament voted to authorize the deployment of troops to contested areas.
Iran and Turkey, which have their own sizable Kurdish populations, have repeatedly condemned the referendum. The United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Security Council also opposed the vote, which they said would impede the fight against ISIS.
In what may signal the start of a series of punitive measures against Kurdish officials, Baghdad has ordered a halt to international flights to airports administered by the KRG, beginning Friday evening.

Kirkuk: the referendum’s tinderbox

Kirkuk has emerged as a flashpoint in Iraqi Kurdistan’s standoff with Baghdad for the same reasons ISIS fought so hard to capture it.
The province has one of the biggest oil fields in the country, something that is abundantly clear to anyone driving through the city, as the smell of oil wafts through the car windows. It also has an electricity plant that powers much of the surrounding areas.
Kurdish forces first took control of the city in 2014 amid their campaign against ISIS. The governor is Kurdish, as are most of the province’s council members.

The mural at the outpost on the edge of Kirkuk, just 4 kilometers from ISIS-controlled Hawija.

On Thursday, Kirkuk seemed quiet. Pedestrians were a rare sight on streets lined with bullet-scarred houses.
A multi-ethnic city whose population is made up of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, and includes those from Christian, Shia and Sunni Muslim backgrounds, this place is no stranger to conflict; in recent days, however, tensions here have hit fever pitch.
Sheikh Burhan al-Mezher, an Arab tribal leader, says his community is “constantly under threat and at risk.” Showing CNN anonymous Facebook messages containing threats to harm his children, he says he “can only pray that this will end and God will bring peace and stability to the whole of Iraq.”
Skirmishes occurred almost nightly in the run-up to the referendum and at least one person died in the fighting, according to Ali Mehdi, the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
The day before the poll, Mehdi told CNN that non-Kurds in the city were being pressured to vote “Yes.”
“The policies of the Kurds in Kirkuk (are) Saddam Hussein’s polic(ies),” says Mehdi, referring to the former Iraqi dictator, ousted following the US-led invasion in 2003.

A Peshmerga fighter looks at a billboard of Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani.

There have violent clashes between Turkmen and Kurds in Kirkuk in the wake of the vote. Turkey has warned that any attack on the region’s Turkmen minority would constitute a military red line.
“(The) Turkish army will intervene immediately if our Turkmen brothers (in the disputed Kirkuk province) are physically targeted,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Fears of revenge attacks

Those fears are echoed elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan, albeit in hushed tones.
“We believe that the Kurdish people have the right to determine their fate … but Arabs are worried that any clashes that might happen in Kirkuk will lead to revenge attacks on us here,” says Ahmad Tayeb, 30, who has lived in the Kurdish capital of Erbil for 10 years. “We can handle a blockade, but we’re afraid of sectarian wars.”

Children holding Kurdish flags run through the streets of Kirkuk on Monday.

A few feet away from Tayeb, a former Peshmerga fighter squeezed on a bench next to a group of friends says he looks forward to the day Kurds are physically separated from Arabs.
“I want to be split from the Arabs,” says Bewyar Abdullah, 28. “For that reason, I voted — to break away from them. All of our history with them is violent. We are not Arab and people have to understand that.”
Two Arab women sit within earshot as he speaks, but Abdullah says he doesn’t care if they overhear him.
Other Kurds say they voted “Yes” because they want to see a democratic state that will respect the rights of minorities, something KRG President Masoud Barzani has pledged in multiple interviews.
“There would be no difference between Arab, Turkmen, Kurd, Persian or anyone in this state,” Kafiah al-Raouf Sadi, a voter, told CNN at a polling station in Erbil on Monday.

‘A right to defend ourselves’

Despite the possibility of military confrontation with Baghdad and Ankara, Kurdish troops in Kirkuk say there is nothing to fear.
“We’ve been like a thirsty man desperate for water, that’s how we’ve longed for our own own state, for our country,” says the Peshmerga’s Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Youssef.

Peshmerga inside the sentry post on the outskirts of Kirkuk

And Maj. Majeed says that for now, at least, it’s business as usual at his garrison.
“We are helping the Iraqi army because we have one enemy, which is ISIS,” he says. “Our headquarters has told us that we are not fighting Iraq. We are extending our hand in peace.
“But if they attack us, we have a right to defend ourselves.”

Democrats just keep winning Republican seats they shouldn’t be winning

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Democrats just keep winning Republican seats they shouldn’t be winning

(CNN)Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama dominated the news on Wednesday. But, it was two far less high-profile races on Tuesday night — one in Florida, one in New Hampshire — that may well give us the best indication of where we are headed in the 2018 midterm elections.

In Florida, Democrat Annette Tadeo won a Republican-held state Senate district 51% to 47%. In New Hampshire, Democrat Kari Lerner beat a former Republican state representative to fill a state House district that Donald Trump won by 23 points last November.
Those twin wins make it eight Republican-controlled state legislative seats that Democrats have flipped in 2017 alone. (Republicans flipped a Democratic state House seat in Louisiana earlier this year although Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in that race.)
That means that of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them — a remarkable number in anycircumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.
Yes, each of these races have unique dynamics. In the Florida race, for example, the seat was open because the Republican incumbent was forced to resign after making racists comment to several black lawmakers at a bar in Tallahassee. It’s not exactly easy to run as a Republican in the district in the wake of that sort of scandal.
Despite the differing circumstances in each of these races, however, Republicans ignore this trend at their own political peril. While Democrats at the federal level haven’t been able to pull off the wins they have scored downballot, in virtually every House special election this year Democrats overperformed — by a large amount — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing in these congressional seats.
There’s also the fact that approval for the Republican party hit its lowest point ever recorded in a CNN poll this month. And that Democrats held a 9-point lead over Republicans on the generic ballot question in that same poll.
Then there’s the daunting history facing the GOP. According to Gallup, the average seat loss for the president’s party in midterm elections with a president under 50% approval (as Trump is now) is 36 — a number that, if past predicted present, would cost Republicans their House majority.
The signs, in other words, are all there for an electoral reckoning for Republicans in 2018.
So, why aren’t we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren’t sexy. Because Democrats haven’t been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year. Because there’s still more than a year left before the midterms. Because the congressional lines have been drawn to make it very difficult for Democrats to make large-scale gains.
All true!
But, don’t mistake what we are seeing: Considerable over performance by Democrats often in heavily Republican areas. That’s true at the state legislative and federal levels. And, if it continues to anything close to the extent we’ve seen in the first nine months of 2017, Republicans could be headed for major problems at the ballot box next November.

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