BARCELONA, Spain – Catalonia appeared to be steering for a head-on clash with Spain Wednesday, October 25, after its separatist leader snubbed senators in Madrid preparing to depose his independence-seeking government before week’s end.
As pro-secession activists protested in Barcelona, Carles Puigdemont turned down an invitation to address legislators in the Spanish capital on his threat of a unilateral Catalan breakaway.
His refusal left little hope that Spain’s move to replace the Catalan government and take control of its institutions, police, and finances, can be avoided.
Puigdemont is said to be mulling two possible responses: declare independence, or call early elections for a new Catalan parliament – the only option that may keep Madrid at arm’s length.
Both sides stood firm late Wednesday.
“The government is not giving us any option other than defending the civil liberties of citizens through the best institutional instruments,” Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueres told Spanish television.
Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala, in turn, insisted an independence declaration “will have no legal validity”, though it will have “consequences from a criminal point of view”.
The worst political crisis in Spain in decades was sparked by a “Yes” vote in a banned October 1 referendum on independence for the semi-autonomous region which accounts for 16% of Spain’s population and 20% of its economic output.
The region of 7.5 million people is fiercely protective of its language and culture and has long struggled for autonomy, restored after the repressive 1939-1975 rule of dictator Francisco Franco.
Catalans, however, are deeply divided on independence from Spain, and only about 43% of eligible voters – some 2.3 million – turned out for the unregulated referendum.
‘Contempt for our laws’
Only two days remain before the senate, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party holds a majority, approves measures stripping Puigdemont and his executive of all power if it carries out threats to declare a Catalan republic.
The measures would come into effect on Saturday, October 28, and remain in place for up to 6 months – until elections are called and a new Catalan parliament sworn in.
They will be designed under the never-before-used Article 155 of the constitution, designed to rein in rebel regions. It gives the government ill-defined and untested powers when the country’s “general interests” come under threat.
Rajoy insisted Wednesday that triggering Article 155 was “the only possible response” to Catalonia’s independence push.
On his official Instagram account, Puigdemont later said: “We will not waste time with those who have already decided to devastate the self-government. We continue!”, using the hasthtag #CatalanRepublic.
Puigdemont called an urgent brainstorming meeting with his cabinet, majors and pro-independence civil society groups late Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s (October 26) 5 pm (1500 GMT) meeting of the Catalan parliament to formulate a plan.
Some fear the 135-member parliament, in which pro-secessionists hold a majority, may vote to carve Catalonia off from Spain, a move Madrid would resist fiercely.
Members of Puigdemont’s executive were not all on the same page, however.
Some urged him to avoid a full-on clash with Madrid by calling early elections for a new Catalan parliament instead, a source close to the leader told AFP.
Pro-secession groups, meanwhile, marched Wednesday on the offices of the Catalan executive, the Generalitat, to push for an independent Catalan republic.
A few hundred protesters brandished posters reading “Independence, not a step back, liberty”.
“We want a republic, we do not want to continue under the Spanish government and dictatorship,” Jaime Planas, a 66-year-old retiree, told Agence France-Presse.
An anti-independence march is planned for Sunday, October 29, in Barcelona.
Whatever happens, observers fear the standoff will spark unrest in the northeastern region where tourism numbers have dropped and close to 1,500 companies have removed their legal headquarters since the banned referendum.
Alfred de Zayas, a democracy expert with the UN’s human rights office, urged the Spanish authorities to enter into negotiations with Catalonia.
“I deplore the decision of the Spanish Government to suspend Catalan autonomy,” he said in a statement from Geneva. “This action constitutes retrogression in human rights protection.” – Rappler.com
There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.