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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Photo

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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Photo

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.”

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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.

 

 

Spain’s Constitutional Court Has Suspended Catalonia’s Independence Vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Spain’s Constitutional Court Has Suspended Catalonia’s Independence Vote

Sep 07, 2017

(MADRID) — Spain’s constitutional court on Thursday suspended the call for a referendum on Catalonia’s independence after agreeing to review an appeal by central authorities in Madrid.

The move was widely expected after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the government was challenging both a controversial law meant to legitimize the independence vote and a decree signed Wednesday by the regional Catalan government summoning voters for the Oct. 1 ballot.

The reaction to the court’s decision by leaders in Catalonia, a prosperous region in northeastern Spain, also didn’t come as a surprise. Carles Puigdemont, the regional president and one of the main promoters of the referendum, said that neither central Spanish authorities nor the courts could halt their plans.

“We will respond to the tsunami of lawsuits with a tsunami of democracy,” Puigdemont told local broadcaster 8TV. He also boasted that more than 16,000 people had already registered online as volunteers and that more than half of the mayors in Catalonia were supporting the vote.

Spain’s constitutional court has previously ruled that a referendum can only be called with the approval of the central authorities. But Puigdemont’s pro-independence coalition claims that the universal right to self-determination overrules Spain’s laws.

The Catalonia region, centered on Barcelona, generates a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product and holds 7.5 million people. It self-governs in several important areas, such as police, health and education. But key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs and most infrastructures are in the hands of the Spanish government. Both Catalan and Spanish are spoken, and many Catalans feel strongly about their cultural heritage and traditions.

The central government called the move an attack against Spain’s and Catalonia’s institutional order.

“That’s something that the government and the courts can’t allow,” Rajoy said in a televised address Thursday following an urgent meeting of his cabinet. “There won’t be a self-determination referendum because that would be taking away from other Spaniards the right to decide their future.”

Rajoy is trying to strike a delicate balance between tamping down the secessionist defiance yet staying away from dramatic measures that would further inflame anti-Spanish sentiments, such as suspending Catalonia’s autonomous powers or declaring a state of emergency, which could bring the military to the mix.

His conservative government has not disclosed what other possible actions are in the pipeline, but it has vowed to trigger all measures in a “proportional” way and “with serenity.”

“The Constitution can be modified but through the rules and channels established, never through disobedience,” Rajoy said.

The state prosecutor, meanwhile, announced plans for lawsuits accusing Catalan officials involved in the possible referendum of disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement, among other charges.

One lawsuit seeks to punish members of the Catalan parliament who allowed the debate and the vote on the legal framework of the Oct. 1 referendum. A separate lawsuit was aimed at Puigdemont and the other members of his cabinet who signed the referendum decree.

Chief state prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza said prosecutors and police forces in Catalonia have been told to investigate and stop any actions taken to celebrate the referendum. Businesses who print tickets for the ballot, produce commercials to advertise it or provide ballot services to the Catalan government could also be legally liable.

He said the measures were aimed at “guaranteeing the constitutional coexistence framework” in Spain.

Although much of the blame for the institutional crisis has been put on the pro-independence bloc in the Catalan parliament, Rajoy’s conservative government is being targeted by other political parties for letting the situation get this far.

The pro-independence bloc has argued that full control would benefit Catalonia. The idea gained support amid the high unemployment and harsh austerity measures that came as a result of Spain’s 2008-2013 financial crisis.

A return to solid growth, however, has weakened public backing for independence.

Catalan leaders have pledged to proclaim a new republic within 48 hours if the “yes” side wins the referendum, regardless of turnout.

King of Spain joins Barcelona march of defiance against terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

King of Spain joins Barcelona march of defiance against terrorism

Media caption Police estimated half a million attended the event

Hundreds of thousands of people in Barcelona have marched against militant Islamists who left 15 people dead in and around the city last week.

King Felipe VI led the demonstrators, alongside Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The king is the first Spanish sovereign to take part in a demonstration since the monarchy was re-established in the 1970s.

Emergency workers and shop staff who helped during the attack at Las Ramblas also took pride of place.

The procession set off behind a banner bearing the slogan “I’m not afraid”. Other placards denounced Islamophobia.

Some signs read Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Some signs read “No tenim por”, meaning “We are not afraid” in Catalan

During the march, the king and prime minister walked the streets in front of hundreds of Catalan flags – the emblem for the autonomous region’s long-running independence claim.

Some protesters whistled and shouted “out” at the king.

Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, is due to holds its unrecognised independence referendum in October.

Prime Minister Rajoy had encouraged “everyone” to take part to show that “Catalonia and the rest of Spain [are] united against terror”.

Tens of thousands of people marched togetherImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionTens of thousands of people marched together

The 17 August attack – which saw a van deliberately driven into people on the Las Ramblas boulevard – was claimed by the Islamic State group.

The driver later stabbed and killed a man while hijacking his vehicle. Hours later, a car attack in nearby Cambrils killed another woman.

cell of 12 jihadists has been blamed for the attack. Eight are dead, while four have appeared in court in Madrid.

King Felipe has reigned in Spain since 2014, when his father, King Juan Carlos I, abdicated.

Spain’s monarchy was restored after the death of military dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Spanish Police Find And Kill The Driver Of Van Used In Barcelona Terrorist Attack

(THIS POST IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

 The driver of a van that careened through throngs of revelers in a tourist zone here last week was shot dead by police on a quiet country road Monday afternoon, capping a four-day manhunt for the last member of a 12-person terrorist cell likely led by a mysterious imam.

After receiving a tip from locals who spotted a suspicious character hiding in the vineyards around the village of Subirats, an hour’s drive west of Barcelona, rural law enforcement officers, accompanied by Catalan police, confronted Younes Abouyaaqoub.

Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Catalan National Police, said Abouyaaqoub threw open his shirt to reveal what officers believed was a suicide bomb belt around his waist.

The chief said Moroccan-born Abouyaaqoub then shouted “Allahu akbar,” or God is great in Arabic, and police shot him dead.

Authorities said Monday that forensic evidence, security camera images and a witness led them to conclude that Abouyaaqoub was the driver of the van that plowed through hundreds of pedestrians in a crowded Las Ramblas street on Thursday afternoon.

Spanish authorities said Monday that the death toll had risen to 15. Scores were wounded, some seriously.

Thirteen people were killed by Abouyaaqoub in his vehicular assault on La Rambla, a world-
famous avenue of cafes, shops, and stately old hotels in the heart of Barcelona.

An hour after the van attack, police say Abouyaaqoub killed another man to steal a getaway car. His accomplices, fleeing a police roadblock, ran over a woman.

Of the 15 people killed, two were children. Six were Spaniards, three Italians, two Portuguese. There was also a Belgian, a Canadian and dual citizen of Australia and Britain. One was an American, Jared Tucker, on his honeymoon.

After Abouyaaqoub was shot dead by police, a bomb squad deployed a robot to get near the prone body and discovered that the suicide vest was a fake, officials said.

The terrorist attack was the worst in Spain since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when 191 people were killed and 1,700 were injured.

The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the Barcelona attack. Catalan police said that it is possible the terrorist cell, composed of Moroccan-born youths and young men, was inspired or steered by Islamic State actors, but that the investigation was ongoing and definitive links have not been established.

Security camera images released Monday by police showed Abouyaaqoub making his escape on foot through Barcelona’s La Boqueria market after the attack.

Those images were given to the public on Monday and probably led to the assailant being identified up in the mountain vineyards.

Catalan Justice Minister Carles Mundo identified Abouyaaqoub’s latest victim as Pau Perez, who was found dead in his Ford Focus several miles from the scene of the van attack. Police said that Abouyaaqoub knifed Perez to death when he stole his car to escape after the van attack. He dumped Perez into the back seat and drove away.

Abouyaaqoub then rammed through the barricades at a police checkpoint as officers fired on the car, authorities said. That vehicle was found abandoned a few miles away with Perez’s body still in the back seat.

Where Abouyaaqoub spent the last four days is unknown.

Trapero, the Catalan National Police chief, told reporters that authorities found DNA remains of at least two people killed in an explosion the day before the attack.

Trapero said it was likely that one of the bodies found at the explosion site was Abdelbaki Essati, a Muslim cleric who is suspected of radicalizing young men in the mountain town of Ripoll and organizing the terrorist cell.

Essati, a Moroccan national who lived in Ripoll for the last two years, served as imam in a mosque, where he taught the Koran and the Arabic language. Police revealed Monday that he was a convicted drug trafficker who had served time in the Castellon prison outside Valencia from 2010 to 2014.

Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia, told The Washington Post that police here were not given timely information by the Spanish federal government and were in the dark — until now — about the imam’s time in prison.

While serving his sentence in prison, Spanish media reported that Essati may have met Rachid Aglif, known as “the Rabbit,” one of the main plotters of the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks.

Ali Yassine, the director of the mosque in Ripoll, said that Essati was paid about $1,000 a month to serve as imam. Local benefactors paid his rent and helped with groceries.

Yassine told The Washington Post that he had given Essati’s name to local police more than a year ago as part of standard security protocol to keep a closer eye on Muslim preachers. But authorities did not flag Essati on a watch list even though he had a conviction for trafficking drugs.

If only authorities had alerted the Muslim elders in Ripoll that Essati was a convicted drug smuggler, the Moroccan families say, he would have been fired as imam and would never have had the chance to radicalize their sons.

“We have trusted the mosque and the authorities and send our children to learn about Islam and Arabic. How could they allow such a criminal and monster to get involved with our children?” said the aunt of Moussa Oukabir, one of the cell members. The aunt spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared a backlash for what her relatives did.

“We must find out what has happened to them, so we can make sure not to loose the next generation of our children as well,” she said.

Police had another chance to stop the terrorist cell members before they struck — after a large explosion occurred Wednesday.

For almost 24 hours, until the van attack, police assumed the explosion was caused by criminals manufacturing methamphetamine.

Authorities said they investigated the blast site as quickly as possible. On Monday, police said they found 120 propane canisters at the site in Alcanar, about a two-hour drive south of Barcelona, alongside explosive material that has been employed in bombs.

Police concluded that the material and propane tanks were to be used in the attack on Barcelona’s crowded La Rambla promenade or at another site in the city.

At the bomb house, police said they also found remote-controlled detonators.

Raul Gallego Abellan in Subirats and Angel García in Barcelona contributed to this report.

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

People wait to enter the area after a van crashed into pedestrians near the Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2017Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular cities for tourists

There have been two attacks in Spain’s Catalonia region involving people driving cars at crowds at high-speeds.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

On Thursday afternoon at 16:50 local time (14:50 GMT) a white van smashed into people on Las Ramblas, a famous boulevard in central Barcelona that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) and was packed with tourists.

The van driver is said to have zig-zagged to try and hit as many people as possible along the pedestrianised area, knocking many to the floor and sending others fleeing for cover in shops and cafes.

He killed 13 people and injured more than 100, and managed to flee the scene.

Spanish police have described it as a terror attack.

Barcelona map

What was the second attack?

About eight hours later, an Audi A3 car ploughed into pedestrians in the popular seaside resort town of Cambrils, 110km (68 miles) south-west of Barcelona.

Six civilians were injured, one critically, and a police officer was hurt too.

Five attackers, some of whom appeared to be wearing suicide belts, were then shot by police. Four died at the scene and one later died of his injuries.

Controlled explosions were carried out and authorities later said the explosive belts were fake.

Both the Las Ramblas and Cambrils attacks are believed to be linked.

Who has been arrested?

On Thursday, one person from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla was arrested in Alcanar and a Moroccan was arrested in Ripoll. Both are towns in Catalonia – the same region as Barcelona.

Police say neither of the pair arrested was the driver.

Documents belonging to the Moroccan, 28-year-old Driss Oubakir, were allegedly used to rent the van used in the Las Ramblas attack but local media report he says his papers were stolen and used without his knowledge.

He arrived in Barcelona from Morocco on 13 August, the El Pais newspaper reports, citing police sources.

On Friday, police announced another arrest in Ripoll. It remains unclear how many people were involved in the plots.

Weren’t there other incidents too?

On Thursday evening at 19:30 local time, a car was driven into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The car was later found with a dead man inside it, but the interior ministry has denied earlier reports he was killed by police gunfire. He is not believed to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing

On Wednesday night, an explosion completely destroyed a house in Alcanar, 200km south of Barcelona, killing one person and wounding seven.

Media caption What was it like to be caught up in the Barcelona attack?

The house was filled with bottles of propane and butane, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported (in Spanish).

That incident is believed to be connected to Thursday’s events.

Who are the victims?

They come from all over the world, with at least 24 nationalities represented.

People from Ireland, France, Australia, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Algeria, Peru, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines are all reported to be among the victims.

Aftermath of Barcelona attack in pictures

Belgium said one of its citizens was killed and France said 26 of its nationals were injured, 11 seriously. The Australian government said at least four citizens were injured.

Who is responsible?

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack and that IS “soldiers” carried it out. But it did not provide any evidence or details to back up the claim.

Why Spain?

The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations but in recent years has not seen the kind of jihadist violence that has rocked France, the UK, Belgium and Germany.

Still, Spain has been targeted before – several trains in Madrid, the capital, were bombed by al-Qaeda inspired militants in 2004, killing 191 people.

The IS news agency, Amaq, said the attack was carried out as part of efforts to target states fighting in the US-led anti-IS coalition.

A few hundred Spanish soldiers are in Iraq, training local forces fighting the Sunni militant group.

How much jihadist activity is there in the country?

The number of operations carried out against jihadists has increased significantly since Spain raised its terror alert level to four out of five in June 2015, meaning there was “high risk” of a terror attack.

Before these attacks, 51 suspected jihadists had already been detained in the country this year, while 69 were detained last year, and 75 were detained in 2015, according to El Pais.

Security and surveillance was stepped up in the wake of truck attacks in the French city of Nice in July 2016 and the German capital Berlin in December.

Related Topics

Why are Spanish football stars in legal trouble?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Why are Spanish football stars in legal trouble?

  • 25 minutes ago
  • From the section Europe
L-R Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi (file pics)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAll three players: (L-R) Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi

Spain has attracted arguably the three brightest lights of world football, with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Neymar all plying their skills in La Liga.

Over the past year, football fans have become used to seeing the trio caught up in accusations of tax fraud and other financial crimes by the Spanish courts.

And they are not the only players in the crosshairs of the Spanish judiciary. In 2016, Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Barcelona team-mate, Javier Mascherano, received a one-year suspended prison sentence for tax fraud.

Three players, three trials

Lionel Messi and father Jorge were last year convicted of defrauding the Spanish state of €4.1m (£3.6m; $4.6m) in unpaid taxes on the striker’s image rights, controlled by offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay.

The pair were both handed 21-month jail terms in a ruling recently confirmed by Spain’s supreme court.

Barcelona's Argentine footballer Lionel Messi (L) in court with his father Jorge Horacio Messi during their trial for tax fraud in Barcelona (June 2016)Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMessi and his father Jorge were convicted of tax fraud in 2016

Now the original Barcelona trial court must decide whether the sentences should be suspended in accordance with Spanish custom for first-time offenders whose prison terms do not exceed two years.

Prosecutors have asked for a two-year sentence and a €10m fine for Neymar, who was cleared of fraud but ordered to stand trial over alleged corruption in his 2013 move from Brazilian club Santos to Barcelona.

Now Ronaldo has become the third and final member of the elite La Liga trio to face criminal accusations, after prosecutors announced they were pursuing the 32-year-old former Manchester United man on four counts of tax fraud.

A source close to Ronaldo told the BBC that “he’s very sad and really upset” about the allegations. “He doesn’t want to stay in Spain. At this moment, he wants to leave,” the source said.

Why has footballers’ paradise turned sour?

Soon after David Beckham joined Real Madrid in 2003, he was able to enjoy a new tax-exemption scheme aimed at attracting foreign talent to Spain across all sectors. That scheme became known as the Beckham Law, when he became one of the first players to sign up to a six-year-long tax ceiling of 24%, roughly half what Spaniards paid on six-figure-plus incomes.

File pic 2006 of David Beckham and Zinedine ZidaneImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionReal Madrid’s top players, such as a Beckham and Zidane became known as the “galacticos”

Spain was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, a perfect playground for “galacticos” of the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and the emergence of Barcelona prodigy Lionel Messi.

But in 2010 the Beckham Law was scrapped for salaries of more than €600,000, and since then tax inspectors have begun to wise up to the use of complex financial operations using offshore shell companies to get around tax laws.

“The line between avoidance and evasion is very fine in these cases. In the past few years Spain’s tax agency has intensified its control over footballers and their companies, checking to see if they are mere fronts or whether they are really active economically,” explains Carlos Cruzado, president of tax inspectors’ union Gestha.

Case against big three

Neymar is the odd one out. His case involves alleged wrongdoing towards a contractual party regarding his transfer fee, but the forward has been found guilty in his native Brazil for tax fraud on money earned while playing for Santos.

La Liga rich list

Who earned what?

$93m

Cristiano Ronaldo: $58m salary, $35m endorsements

  • $80m Lionel Messi: $53m salary, $27m endorsements
  • $37m Neymar: $15m salary, $22m endorsements
Getty Images

The Messi and Ronaldo cases are similar. Both are accused of avoiding tax on sale of image rights by using offshore companies. However, the Portuguese was registered as a non-resident taxpayer under the Beckham Law, while the Argentine has spent his entire adult life registered in Spain.

Prosecutors accuse the Real Madrid star of evading tax of €14.7m between 2011 and 2014 via an alleged shell company called Tollin Associates, registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Spanish investigators say the company, owned by Ronaldo, is a “screen” and has no economic activity apart from having bought and then ceded the player’s image rights to a firm based in Ireland that “genuinely manages [his] rights sales”.

Prosecutors also claim that money earned from image rights was incorrectly described as capital gains, to benefit from a lower tax rate.

What is their defence?

Lionel Messi was informed by the judge in his case it was no defence to plead ignorance and argue that his father was the only person who knew how his money was being managed.

Neymar of FC Barcelona leaves the National Court on February 2, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionNeymar spent 90 minutes before a judge in Madrid in February 2016

Neymar has denied any wrongdoing and told the court investigating his case that his father and associates dealt with off-field business matters.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s representatives and legal team say the only dispute can be about quantity and that there has been no intention to commit fraud. “There is no tax evasion scheme… There has never been any hiding nor any intention to hide anything,” they say.

They argue he has paid tax to the Spanish treasury on 20% of his total image rights when, in fact, more than 90% of these are generated outside Spain as he is such a global name.

“The tax agency clearly thinks that if he is being paid for wearing certain boots, shirts or caps in Spain, then he cannot claim this money is being earned abroad,” explains Mr Cruzado.

Will any of them go to jail?

Neymar and Lionel Messi look set to be spared prison due to Spain’s unwritten two-year-sentence rule, even if Neymar is eventually found guilty.

Cristiano Ronaldo may be a different matter. Three of the four accusations of tax fraud are considered by prosecutors to be “aggravated”, so they carry a minimum sentence of two years each. Four guilty verdicts and he could face as many as seven years.

However, an investigating judge needs to ratify the prosecutors’ accusations, and that could take many months or even years.

Even if the investigating magistrate does take up the case, the Portuguese will have several options and a guilty verdict would not necessarily mean jail.

He could admit guilt, pay taxes and fines in advance and reduce any eventual jail term to a half or quarter of the statutory minimum. That way he would slip under the standard two-year bar for first-time offenders and see his sentence suspended.

This blog, trouthtroubles.com is owned, written, and operated by oldpoet56. All articles, posts, and materials found here, except for those that I have pressed here from someone else’s blog for the purpose of showing off their work, are under copyright and this website must be credited if my articles are re-blogged, pressed, or shared.

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