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

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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.”

Iraqi Parliament Rejects Kurdish Independence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Middle East

Iraqi Parliament Rejects Kurdish Independence Referendum

Iraq

The Iraqi parliament voted on Tuesday to reject the referendum over the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region scheduled for September 25.

A number of Kurdish lawmakers withdrew from the parliament session in wake of the announcement.

“Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the session but the decision to reject the referendum was passed by a majority,” Mohammed al-Karbouli said.

Kurdish lawmaker Majid Shingali said Kurds would reject the decision.

“This decision has no value and we will not implement it,” he told Reuters.

Speaker Salim al-Jabouri stated that the Iraqi MPs’ vote on rejecting the referendum “shows the parliament’s keenness on the unity of Iraq’s land and people.”

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is now bound to take the necessary measures that would preserve Iraqi unity and kick off serious dialogue to resolve pending issues between Baghdad and the Kurdish region, he added in a statement.

He explained that the constitution stipulates the cases that a referendum can be held for and the Kurdistan vote is not one of them.

The Kurdish government’s decision to call for a referendum angered the Iraqi government that deemed the vote unconstitutional.

The US and several European countries also expressed their opposition to the referendum, raising fears that Kurdish populations in nearby countries would also demand a similar vote.

Irbil stressed however that it has no other choice but the vote to guarantee the rights of the Kurdish people.

The Kurds themselves are divided over the referendum despite the unanimity over independence. Some believe that the timing of the vote, set by President Masoud Barzani, is not appropriate given the economic crises in the autonomous region. Others believe that the referendum decision should be made by the parliament, which has been suspended for over two years.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Iraq Has Consistently Failed To Maintain Partnership Agreements With The Kurdish People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Barzani: Iraq Failed to Maintain Partnership with Kurds

Iraq

Erbil– The head of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Masoud Barzani, reiterated his adherence to hold an independence referendum on September 25, noting that Iraq “has failed to maintain a true partnership with the Kurdish people.”

During a meeting on Wednesday with Kurdish Muslim clerics in Erbil, Barzani said: “The Kurds have long tried to establish a federal state in Iraq,” adding that since 2003, the Iraqi government has violated around 55 articles of the Constitution, which was adopted by the people.

He also stressed that Kurdistan would never represent part of Iraq, “if Baghdad continues to violate the Constitution,” revealing that in 2004, the proportion of Kurds in the Army was 40 percent, while “today it is zero”.

“The independence referendum is not the property of one person or one party, but belongs to the people of Kurdistan and all the Kurdish parties,” Barzani said, adding that “the Kurdish people have been subjected to genocide since the establishment of the Iraqi state in the 1920s.”

Meanwhile, Barzani’s media advisor, Kifah Mahmoud, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Kurdish leader has stressed that the decision to hold the referendum was not biased or personal, in reference to those who claim that the decision was solely made by the president and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Mahmoud pointed out that Barzani “realizes the important role of religious scholars in support of the independence referendum, which is equal to the role of media, teachers in schools, and politicians.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts – Twitter – Facebook – Google Plus – YouTube

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