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.

Catalonia crisis: Puigdemont to ask region’s parliament to discuss ‘attack’ by Madrid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Catalonia crisis: Puigdemont to ask region’s parliament to discuss ‘attack’ by Madrid

Rajoy urges removal of Catalan President 02:31

Story highlights

  • Catalan’s president was expected to address the pro-independence crowd Saturday
  • The region’s succession could have dire economic effects for Spain

Barcelona, Spain (CNN)[Breaking news update, posted at 3:35 p.m. ET]

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will ask the region’s parliament to discuss Spain’s attempt to curb Catalan self-government, he said Saturday in a televised address. “The Catalan institutions and the people of Catalonia cannot accept this attack,” he said. He did not announce Catalan independence in the statement.
[Previous update, posted at 3:09 p.m. ET]
Nearly half a million people took to the streets Saturday in Barcelona, waving flags and banners in support of Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
The rally unfolded just hours after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his government would invoke rarely used constitutional powers to remove Catalonia’s leaders.
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Demonstrators shouted, “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and “Rajoy, Rajoy, so you know we are leaving!”
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was among the protest crowd, which police estimated at 450,000 people. He was scheduled to speak later Saturday.
The unprecedented constitutional measures — intended to end Catalan leaders’ independence bid — fall under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution and would have to be sent to the Spanish Senate for approval. This would happen within the next week, Rajoy said.

Rajoy, left, called Saturday for the removal of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

The Madrid government announced Thursday that it would invoke Article 155, a provision that allows it to suspend the autonomy of the Catalan regional administration.
The move followed weeks of division triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1.
Puigdemont on Thursday threatened that his wealthy northeastern region could formally declare independence if the Spanish government did not engage in dialogue.
Nearly 7.5 million people live in Catalonia. Spain’s population is almost 49 million.

Move to oust in Senate’s hands

Under the measures proposed Saturday by Rajoy, Puigdemont, his vice president and ministers would be suspended and replaced by the administration in Madrid, where necessary.
“The government had to enforce Article 155. It wasn’t our desire, nor our intention. It never was,” Rajoy said. “But in this situation, no government of any democratic country can accept that the law is ignored.”
In undertaking these steps, the government has four goals, Rajoy said. These are: to return to legality; to restore normality and coexistence in Catalonia; to continue the region’s economic recovery; and to hold elections under normal conditions.
“The autonomy is not suspended, nor the government,” he said. “People are removed who put the government outside the law, outside the constitution and outside statutes.”
New elections should be called for Catalonia within six months, Rajoy said, adding that he wants it to happen as soon as possible.
“The only way for Article 155 to be stopped is if the Senate votes it down,” he said.
Rajoy’s Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate. Two Spanish opposition parties, PSOE and Ciudadanos, have also said they will back the Article 155 measures, Rajoy said.
Senate Vice President Pedro Sanz said the Senate would hold a session Friday morning to vote on Article 155.
Spain’s national prosecutor’s office told CNN it is preparing to file charges of rebellion if Catalan authorities declare a declaration of independence. It did not name Puigdemont or any other officials as possible defendants.

Protesters to rally

The crisis threatens to fracture Spain, one of the European Union’s principal members, and has prompted mass public protests in Catalonia and elsewhere.
The immediate response of Catalan politicians appeared to be one of defiance.
“In the face of totalitarianism, today more than ever, we defend democracy and civil and political rights, you will find us there,” Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras said via Twitter.
“Today President Rajoy, in an act of enormous political irresponsibility, trespassed all limits. He announced a de facto coup d’etat with which he aims to take over Catalan institutions,” said Catalan Parliamentary leader Carme Forcadell.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colao tweeted: “Rajoy has suspended the Catalan self-government for which so many people fought. A serious attack against the rights and freedom of many, here and everywhere.”
Puigdemont said Thursday that if Madrid “persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues,” the Catalan parliament reserved the right to formalize a declaration of independence that was suspended on October 10.
At that session, Puigdemont said that Catalonia had “earned the right” to become an independent republic in its October 1 referendum, which was banned by Spain’s Constitutional Court. But he suspended the effects of the declaration to allow for talks.
Puigdemont also demanded Spain end its “repression” of Catalan separatist leaders, two of whom were taken into custody on suspicion of sedition earlier in the week.

People hold candles and a Catalan flag during a demonstration in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17.

More than 2.25 million people turned out to vote on October 1, with the regional government reporting that 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low — around 43% of the voter roll — which Catalan officials blamed on the central government’s efforts to stop the referendum.
Violent scenes unfolded as national police sought to prevent people from casting their ballots.

Marchers demand the release of imprisoned Catalan leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart on Saturday in Barcelona.

Rajoy urges unity

Rajoy said Saturday that Puigdemont had repeatedly rejected opportunities to talk to Madrid before calling the banned referendum and insisted his own government was acting to protect the interests of all Spaniards, especially Catalans.

Catalan families divided over independence

Catalan families divided over independence 01:48
“I am fully aware this moment is difficult but all together we are going to overcome (it), as we have previously overcome very complicated events throughout our history,” he said.
Rajoy also warned that an independent Catalonia would be outside the European Union and the World Trade Organization, with dire consequences for the region’s economic health.
A combination of higher tariffs, lack of access to credit and “disproportionate” inflation would lead to “impoverishment of the Catalan economy of between 25 and 30%,” he said.
Amid the uncertainty, businesses have already started to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse. According to a tweet Friday by the National Association of Registers, 1,185 companies began that process between October 2 and 19.
Spain’s King Felipe VI said Friday that Spain was facing an “unacceptable” attempt at secession and that Catalonia must continue to be a central part of the nation.
EU leaders have backed the Madrid government in its handling of the crisis, which Rajoy insists is an internal matter.
European Council President Donald Tusk described the Catalonia situation as “concerning” but said there was “no space for EU intervention,” in remarks Thursday in Brussels.

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.