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.

As Kurdish Borders Close, War of Words Heats Up

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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Protesters gathered on Friday to condemn Iraq’s ban on international flights at the airport in Erbil, in the region where Kurds have voted for independence. CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

ERBIL, Iraq — The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region warned on Friday that the Kurds might be forced to retaliate if the central government persists with what his spokesman called a “very aggressive” stance toward the pro-independence referendum.

Overseas flights were canceled on Friday from the international airport in Erbil, hours before a ban by the Iraqi government took effect, while officials in Baghdad warned that land borders might also be closed. There were also reports of internal highway closures.

“We are hopeful that these are all temporary measures,” said Vahal Ali, director of communications in the office of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish region’s president. “We want this to be a peaceful transition, but if Baghdad decides not, there is a lot we can also do.”

Mr. Ali was critical of threats by Baghdad to ask Turkey to cut a vital oil pipeline, which provides most of the estimated $8 billion the Kurdish region earns annually from oil revenue, and a request from the Iraqi parliament to move troops into the oil-rich, Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk. “Baghdad’s response to the referendum was very aggressive, so we don’t know what will happen,” the spokesman said.

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a referendum on Monday, which Mr. Ali said obliges Mr. Barzani to negotiate independence from the rest of Iraq. Baghdad has refused to enter such negotiations, and Mr. Ali said that if it maintained that attitude, Kurdistan would be forced to unilaterally declare independence.

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“President Barzani was obligated to conduct the referendum and now is obligated to respond to that result,” Mr. Ali said. “We’ve repeatedly said we can negotiate, but that has to be on the question of independence.”

Kurdish officials have expressed dismay at the absence of support they have found internationally, with the United States and other powers, as well as the United Nations, critical of the decision to even hold the referendum, and none expressing approval for the pro-independence result.

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The airspace at Erbil’s international airport was closed at 6 p.m. local time. CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson bluntly expressed the American rejection of the referendum and its outcome in a statement released on Friday, saying “the vote and the results lack legitimacy.”

Hoshyar Zebari, who helped lead the referendum drive in the Kurdish region and was formerly Iraq’s foreign minister, said that criticism of the vote from the United States had “emboldened Baghdad” to take a hard-line position toward the Kurds. Baghdad’s threatened retaliation was, he said, “very damaging and provocative, and illogical and destructive.”

Mr. Ali said the Kurds were hopeful that international allies would eventually come around to the idea of Kurdish independence, and said they were heartened at some individual voices praising the referendum result. He cited, for instance, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the United States Senate, who on Wednesday praised the Kurdish independence vote.

Iraq’s influential Shia spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in his Friday sermon in the southern city of Karbala, was strongly critical of the Kurdish move. “Any individual steps toward division and separation and the attempt of making this thing reality will lead to internal and external reaction and bad consequences that would damage our dear Kurdish citizens in the first place and maybe lead to what is more dangerous than that, God forbid, and will give way for many regional and international sides to intervene in Iraqi affairs,” Ayatollah Sistani said.

On Friday, military officials in Baghdad confirmed that the strategic highway linking Mosul and the northern city of Dohuk, in Kurdish-held territory, was closed by the Iraqi military for several hours. In addition, protests by civilians forced the closure of the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway on Friday. Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, said that land borders would also be closed between Iraq’s Kurdish region and Turkey and Iran, but there was no confirmation if that had happened.

The Iraq border agency announced that it was sending convoys of police officers and Interior Ministry officials to guard three key land border crossings between the Kurdish region and Syria, Turkey and Iran beginning on Saturday.

Mr. Ali said that he was aware of no such move and that it would be unconstitutional.

He said that cutting off the Kurdish region’s trade with Turkey, which he said totals $17 billion a year, would hurt everyone.

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Turkish and Iraqi forces participating in joint exercises in Turkey on Tuesday, near the border with Iraq’s Kurdish region. Iraq’s border agency is increasing security at three major border crossings between the Kurdish region and Iran, Syria and Turkey. CreditIlyas Akengin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He also warned of measures that the Kurdish regional government could take if Iraq’s crackdown on air travel and the borders continued, including severing internet and mobile telephone coverage, much of it based in the region, and even the supply of cement, most of which comes from the region.

“The list is very long. There’s a lot we can do, if we’re talking about that,” he said. “We could cut off communications. We can also close the Erbil International Airport to domestic flights, to Baghdad and Najaf.” That, he said, would hurt many Iraqi officials whose family members live in the Kurdish region. “The families of all their policy makers live in Erbil because it’s not safe in Baghdad anymore,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali also scoffed at Iraqi threats to move troops into Kirkuk, the oil-rich city claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. Kurdish forces took control of most of the city after Islamic State extremists chased the Iraqi army out in 2014.

“They’re talking about sending troops?” Mr. Ali asked. “They couldn’t enter Kirkuk under ISIS, they couldn’t liberate it then, and now?”

Flights after 5 p.m. on Friday were canceled by international airlines flying out of Erbil, according to travelers at the airport. The Iraqi ban took effect at 6 p.m.

Prime Minister Abadi’s office released a statement that the Kurdish region’s two international airports, in Erbil and Suleimaniya, could be reopened as soon as Kurdish officials transferred control of them to the federal government. Kurdish officials said that was not going to happen.

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The Kurdish region’s minister of transport, Mawlood Bowa Morad, accused the Iraqi government of having issued orders to shoot down any airliners that defied its ban on international flights into Erbil or Suleimaniya airports. “There is a military order that if any flights are coming in, they are going to shoot them down,” Mr. Morad said, during an interview at the nearly deserted Erbil airport after the 6 p.m. deadline had passed.

Producing his smartphone, Mr. Morad displayed a scan of what he described as a document that had come from a high official in Prime Minister Abadi’s office, issuing the shoot-down order to the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad. Officials in Mr. Abadi’s office said that the document was a forgery, and that the official who supposedly had signed it was a retiree with no authority.

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Iraqi Kurd’s Have Voted Overwhelmingly For Independence From Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Iraqi Kurds have voted overwhelmingly in favor of declaring independence from Iraq in a historic and controversial referendum that could have wide-ranging implications for the Middle East.

More than 92% of the roughly 3 million people who cast valid ballots on Monday voted “yes” to independence, according to official results announced by the Kurdish electoral commission on Wednesday.
The outcome represents a step towards independence for the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq and areas it claims, and puts Kurdish authorities on a collision course with their counterparts in Baghdad.
The poll took place despite vehement opposition from the Iraqi government, which described it as unconstitutional and has authorized use of force against Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, however, says the referendum will give it a mandate for talks to secede from Iraq, although Baghdad has already ruled out such talks.

Who are the Kurds?

Who are the Kurds? 01:40
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the referendum to be annulled and for the KRG to engage in dialogue as guided by the constitution. His comments come a day after he ordered the Kurds to yield control of their airports to the central government by Friday.
Several international flight operators have announced plans to cease flights to the region on Friday, including Egypt Air and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Iran closed its airspace on Sunday.
Nearly all neighboring regional powers objected to the referendum, warning that independence could further destabilize the region.
On Tuesday, KRG President Masoud Barzani hailed the preliminary results and urged the world to “respect the will of the people of Kurdistan.”
“Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Barzani said during a televised speech.

Barzani appears at a pro-independence rally in Irbil on Friday.

The vote was held across the autonomous region and in disputed territories including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a flashpoint city claimed by both sides.
It comes as Kurdish forces play an instrumental role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In helping to eliminate the terror group, Kurdish leaders appear to have expected the backing of the international community in pursuing nationalist aspirations.
But the referendum has received little support outside northern Iraq.
Both Iran and Turkey have sizable Kurdish minorities and fear the ballot might galvanize independence movements in their countries.
The United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations denounced the vote amid concerns that it could detract from the campaign against ISIS.
As voters cast their ballots Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the referendum as “illegal” and suggested Turkey could cut off oil exports from northern Iraq, depriving the KRG of a key source of revenue.
On Wednesday night, after the announcement of the voting results, Irbil’s main square was quiet — a sharp contrast to the revelry on the streets the night of the vote.
“I’m afraid of the situation,” said Ahmad Tayeb, 30, an Arab from Anbar who now lives in Irbil. “As Arabs, we’re worried that clashes in Kirkuk will lead to revenge on us here.”
Bewyar Abdullah, 28, a peshmerga fighter who was injured during war on Isis in Mosul, said he was at the square with friends. They expected large gatherings and fanfare but found none.
“Actually, I want to be split from the Arabs … For that reason I voted to break away from them,” he said. “We don’t understand why there are no celebrations.”
Israel is the only country in the region that supported the vote, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsing what he described as “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state.”
European Union leaders issued a statement on Wednesday calling on all parties involved to “exercise calm and restraint” and to resolve their issues through peaceful dialogue.
Numbering 30 million, Kurds make up a sizable minority in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Despite nearly a century of Kurdish nationalist movements in various countries, the Kurds have never had a nation of their own.