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Spain’s Prime Minister Urges Senate to Allow Catalonia Takeover

Protesters holds banners that read in Catalan '' freedom'' showing the portraits of the inprisoned Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart
Protesters holds banners that read in Catalan '' freedom'' showing the portraits of the inprisoned Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the Catalan grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural. VOA

Barcelona, October 27: Spain’s prime minister urged the country’s Senate Friday to grant special constitutional measures to allow the central government to take control of Catalonia’s autonomous powers in an attempt to halt the region’s independence bid.

Mariano Rajoy told senators that Spain is facing a challenge not seen in its recent history, adding that what is happening in Catalonia is “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all, and that has consequences.”

Rajoy said if the Senate approves, the government’s first step would be to take control of the region and dismiss it’s president and cabinet ministers.

If Senate, in which Rajoy’s party has an absolute majority, moves to approve the prime minister’s request, it will be the first time in four decades that the national government in Madrid would directly run the affairs of one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions.

There is speculation that Catalonia’s regional parliament may take the step of declaring independence during a special session later Friday.

Several thousand protesters gathered near parliament waving Catalan flags and chanting “independence” and “freedom,” hoping to see the proclamation of a new independent state.

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont, however, has kept Spain in suspense by again failing to declare independence for his region, following an October 1 referendum in which 90 percent of Catalans who cast ballots voted for secession.

The Spanish government denounced the referendum as unconstitutional and used police to try to block the vote, limiting voter participation to about 50 percent.

The Catalan leader expressed wishes to reach a negotiated solution with the central government over the independence impasse, which has divided Catalans and caused a nationalist backlash in the rest of Spain. However, the central government has not responded to the request for dialogue.(VOA)

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Catalonia Referendum: Over 3 lac People attended Sunday Rally for Spanish Unity

Activists protest with a giant Catalan flag
Activists protest with a giant Catalan flag during a mass rally against Catalonia's declaration of independence, in Barcelona, Spain. VOA

Barcelona, October 30: An air of calm settled over Barcelona after hundreds of thousands of Catalan attended a rally Sunday for Spanish unity. The atmosphere of the rally was peaceful, as police helicopters monitored from above.

Amid a forest of Spanish national flags and chants of “Viva Espana,” protesters called for the jailing of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who on Friday issued a declaration of independence shortly before the Spanish government stripped Catalonia of its autonomy.

But the calm that followed the rally in the Catalan capital attended by an estimated 300,000 people had the quality of the stillness before a storm. Few are ready to hazard a prediction of how events in Catalonia may unfold in the coming days in a confrontation that has seen intransigence from both sides.

How Madrid starts imposing direct rule Monday on its restive northeast region, and how separatists respond, will determine the next phase in the month-long cat-and-mouse standoff between the politicians in Madrid and Catalan secessionists. Both appear to be banking on the other side tiring like a bull played by a matador.

But fears are growing the perilous confrontation, at times visceral and seamed with past historical grievances including from the era of Gen. Francisco Franco, will degenerate into violence, despite the separatists’ determination to remain non-violent and Madrid’s eagerness not to repeat the national police violence that accompanied an October 1 independence referendum.

“If Puigdemont takes part in these elections, he can exercise [his] democratic opposition,” said government spokesman Íñigo Méndez de Vigo. That suggests the implacable deputy Spanish prime minister, María Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría Antón, a 46-year-old former prosecutor who is charged with overseeing direct rule, is not planning to kick off by arresting Catalan separatist leaders, a move some analysts say would be inflammatory if it is tried.

Nonetheless, there will be several flash-points in the coming week that could push the confrontation, the worst political crisis to roil Spain since a failed military coup in 1981, down paths neither Madrid nor the secessionists want or could control, say analysts. They worry the type of clashes seen on October 1, when the national police and Civil Guard tried to distort the referendum, will be seen when Madrid decides to enforce direct-rule by closing down Catalonia’s parliament and regional government. “I really will be amazed if we don’t see more of that, sadly,” said Sally Ann-Kitts, a lecturer in Hispanic studies at Britain’s University of Bristol.

“All sides seem to be living in Wonderland,” according to John Carlin, who was fired from his job at the Spanish newspaper El País earlier this month over an article he wrote highly critical of the Spanish government for its response to the independence referendum.

In an article for the London Sunday Times, Carlin argued the biggest risk may come if the idea takes hold “among highly energized independence-seeking youth that they have been the victims of a Franquista coup d’état.”

Another risk is that provocateurs on either side, violent anarchists or hardline Spanish nationalists take advantage of the mess Catalonia is in and organize an incident to provoke a reaction from their opponents. On Friday young Spanish nationalists attacked a Catalan radio station.

Rival administrations

As things stand, Catalans will wake up Monday to two rival administrations in their region claiming legitimacy, the Puigdemont-led regional government and an emergency authority staffed by Spanish civil servants and led by Sáenz de Santamaría. On Saturday, Puigdemont defied the fact that he was formally dismissed by the Spanish government and urged Catalans to “defend” the new republic in a televised address.

Separatist leaders and their supporters appear determined to wear Madrid down much as a matador does with a bull by obstructing and resisting the orders issued by Madrid. “The only answer we have is self-defense – institutional self-defense and civil self-defense. I hope Catalans won’t be intimidated by Madrid,” says Abel Escriba, a pro-independence political scientist.

Madrid is banking on Catalonia’s 200,000 public employees and the executives of public companies in the region accepting direct-rule and ignoring the instructions of the Puigdemont-led regional government. The public employee, teacher and firefighter unions have proclaimed their members will ignore Madrid’s instruction.

“We are going to ask them to be professional and to continue to provide services for their citizens,” a Spanish official told VOA last week. The strategy is to be as light-touch as possible as the region is steered to the snap elections in December, which the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is gambling will go against the separatists.

A poll published by El Pais Saturday suggested a small majority of Catalans (52 percent to 43 percent) favour the dissolution of the regional parliament and the holding of the early elections. Fifty-five percent of Catalan respondents opposed the declaration of independence, with 41 percent in favour of secession.(VOA)


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Who Will Blink First — Barcelona or Madrid?

President of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell
President of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell, center, sits with parliament representatives to discuss their next move after Spanish government announced plans to remove members of the region's pro-independence government, at the Catalonia Parliament in Barcelona. VOA

Catalan separatists are devising nonviolent plans to resist the imposition of direct rule by Madrid.

With days to go before the Spanish government secures parliamentary approval to curb Catalonia’s semi-autonomy, separatist leaders are promising to disrupt Madrid’s efforts to shutter their regional government, which could start by the end of the week.

Separatists stand firm

They have pledged to meet any deployment of the national police with what the leaders say will be “walls of people.” And they say that new bosses sent in by Madrid to oversee Catalonia’s own regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and Catalonia’s public broadcaster, as well as the regional tax authority, will face obstructionism and disobedience.

Spain’s conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the country’s three main national parties are adamant that the unruly northeastern region won’t be allowed to secede. They maintain Catalans broke the law when they held an independence vote on October 1, which was deemed illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures as he delivers a statement at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. VOA

Government strategy

According to Spanish officials, Madrid’s current plan is to remove from their offices only the top echelon of Catalonia’s government, including regional president Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras but will leave in place other Catalan ministers, government officials and the executives of public companies so that they can continue to oversee day-to-day administration.

“We are going to ask them to be professional and to continue to provide services for their citizens,” a Spanish official told VOA. The strategy is to be as light-touch as possible and for the intervention to be as brief as possible with quick early regional elections.

Direct rule

On Saturday, the Spanish prime minister announced plans to impose direct rule on the troublesome Catalonia — marking the first time since 1933 that an elected Spanish government has stripped Catalonia of its semi-autonomy.

The separatists’ answer came Sunday when an estimated 450,000 took to the streets of Barcelona to protest on a warm sunny evening the proposed direct-rule measures and to demand the release of two prominent independence leaders, who have been jailed on charges of sedition.

“If the repressive drift does not end, the time will come when we will be freer in prisons than in the streets,” he says. He argues Catalan separatists will endure any crackdown by Madrid and come through “more convinced of their cause and stronger.”

Separatist propaganda on a winning streak

As the dangerous game of political chicken nears a denouement there are many here in the Catalan capital who feel impotent and puzzled why the conservative national government of Mariano Rajoy keeps on gifting — as far as they are concerned — the Catalan separatists propaganda wins.

In Barcelona’s warren-like medieval Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter, an area filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalan restaurants as well as tourists, VOA found more people ambivalent about independence than for it. But all were alarmed about how the confrontation might play out, and critical of the central government’s strong-armed tactics-like its attempt to stop the October 1 referendum, which left about 800 people injured.

Many are ambivalent

Less than half of the region’s 7.5 million Catalans turned out to vote in the referendum earlier this month, although 9 out of 10 who did, backed independence. But separatists think the political trajectory is favoring their cause.

But an opinion poll Sunday for El Periodico, a Barcelona newspaper, found only 36 percent of respondents backed independence, a 10 percent drop on previous polling.(VOA)

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Catalonia Independence : Spanish PM plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders to take control

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution

The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia by removing its leaders. VOA

Madrid, October 22, 2017 : Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has outlined plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders and take control of the separatist region.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday, Rajoy stopped short of dissolving the region’s parliament but put forward plans for elections, BBC reported.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s Senate in the next few days.

Large crowds have gathered in Barcelona to protest against direct rule from Madrid. It comes almost three weeks after Catalonia held a disputed independence referendum.

Spain’s Supreme Court had declared the vote illegal and said it violated the constitution, which describes the country as indivisible.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has ignored pleas from the national government to abandon moves towards independence.

Rajoy said the the Catalan government’s actions were “contrary to the law and seeking confrontation”. He said it was “not our wish, it was not our intention” to impose direct rule.

This will be via Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which allows it to impose direct rule in a crisis on any of the country’s semi-autonomous regions.

Spanish law dictates that elections must be held within six months of Article 155 being triggered, but Rajoy said it was imperative that the vote be held much sooner.

Reports say that Spain’s interior ministry is preparing take control of Catalonia’s Mossos police force and remove its commander Josep Lluís Trapero, who is already facing sedition charges.

The government is also considering taking control of Catalonia’s public broadcaster TV3, El País newspaper reported.

Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras said Rajoy and his allies had “not just suspended autonomy. They have suspended democracy”.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said it was a “serious attack on the rights and freedoms of all, both here and elsewhere” and called for demonstrations.

The president of Barcelona football club, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said the club gave its “absolute support for the democratic institutions of Catalonia chosen by its people”.

But he called for any reaction to be “civil and peaceful” and said dialogue was the only way to a solution.

Eduard Rivas Mateo, spokesman for the Catalan Socialist party — which supports the Spanish government’s stance but also wants constitutional reform — said he could not accept a “harsh application” of Article 155.

ALSO READ Catalonia Protesters Demand Release of Separatist Leaders

But Ines Arrimadas, head of the centrist Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, which is against independence, said holding fresh elections would “restore goodwill and democracy” in the region.

Rajoy’s use of Article 155 had been widely anticipated, but his announcement when it came still had a huge impact. The article has never been invoked before, so there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding its potential reach and meaning.

Although Rajoy insisted that Catalonia’s self-government is not being suspended, many will disagree. The removal from office of Carles Puigdemont and all the members of his cabinet, to allow ministers in Madrid to take on their duties, amounts to a major reining in of Catalonia’s devolved powers.

The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia with these measures.

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution. (IANS)