Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’

Thousands protest for independence in Catalonia — Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday

October 21, 2017



© PAU BARRENA / AFP | Catalan regional vice-president and chief of Economy and Finance Oriol Junqueras and Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont attend a demonstration on October 21, 2017 in Barcelona.

Video by Sarah MORRIS


Latest update : 2017-10-21

Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday, local police said, after Spain moved to dismiss Catalonia’s regional government to thwart its leaders’ independence bid.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was among the huge crowds filling the streets around the Paseo de Gracia boulevard, with many chanting  “independence” and “freedom”.

 People hold candles and a Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flag during a demonstration in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17, 2017.
Catalonia’s independence referendum has thrown the country into crisis. AFP photo

The demonstration was originally called to protest against the detention of two influential separatist activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, who are being held on sedition charges accused of instigating protests in the run-up to Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on October 1.

‘They’ve trampled on our rights’

But Saturday’s move by Madrid to seize powers from the semi-autonomous region — which could include taking control of its police force and replacing its public media chiefs — was on the minds of many in the crowds.

“I feel totally outraged and extremely sad,” said Meritxell Agut, a 22-year-old bank worker.

“They’ve trampled on our rights and our ideas as Catalans,” she told AFP, adding: “They can destroy everything they want but we’ll keep on fighting.”



Spain Moves to Seize Control of Catalan Government, Call Regional Elections, Remove Leaders

October 21, 2017

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy seeks to use measures to quell a push for independence in Catalonia

People hold candles and a Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flag during a demonstration in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17, 2017.
Catalonia’s independence referendum has thrown the country into crisis. AFP photo
The Wall Street Journal

BARCELONA—Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asked lawmakers to grant him unprecedented powers to force leaders of the Catalonia region to cease their independence push in what will be a major test for Spanish democracy.

Mr. Rajoy said he is requesting the Senate allow the central government to remove the leader of Catalonia and his cabinet members. Mr. Rajoy said Spain’s central government would temporarily control Catalonia’s regional ministries until new elections are called. The prime minister said he is seeking to convene…


The Spanish prime minister has outlined plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders, but not dissolve the parliament of the semi-autonomous region.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said after an emergency cabinet meeting that the government intended to hold regional elections as soon as possible.

The measures put forward by the cabinet now go to a vote by Spain’s Senate.

They come almost three weeks after Catalonia held a disputed independence referendum.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has ignored pleas from the national government to abandon his independence campaign.

Mr Rajoy said the government had no choice in seeking to impose direct rule, arguing that the Catalan government’s actions were “contrary to the law and seeking confrontation”.

How did we get here?

Catalonia’s regional government held a referendum on 1 October to ask residents of the region if they wanted to break away from Spain.

Of the 43% of Catalans said to have taken part, 90% voted in favour of independence. But many anti-independence supporters boycotted the ballot, arguing it was not valid.

Mr Puigdemont and other regional leaders then signed a declaration of independence, but immediately suspended it in order to allow for talks.

He then defied two deadlines set by the national government to clarify Catalonia’s position, and the government announced it would pursue Article 155.

What is Article 155?

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the national government to impose direct rule over Spain’s semi-autonomous regions in the event of a crisis. It has never before been invoked in democratic Spain.

It says that if a region’s government “acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain”, Madrid can “take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply”.

Catalonia currently enjoys significant autonomy from Spain, including control over its own policing, education and healthcare.

Media captionWhy is there a Catalan crisis? The answer is in its past

But the Spanish cabinet is now expected to recommend dissolving Catalonia’s government and holding elections in January, as well as taking control of the region’s 16,000-strong police force.

After Saturday’s cabinet meeting, the steps will be debated by a Senate committee before a final vote. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) holds a majority in the Senate, meaning the proposals are likely to pass.

What are the economic arguments?

Catalonia accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, and supporters of independence say the region contributes too much to the national economy.

Opponents argue that Catalonia is stronger as a part of Spain, and that breaking away would lead to economic disaster for the country as a whole.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks at a news conference at the end of the European Council Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 20 October 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPrime Minister Mariano Rajoy is meeting with his cabinet on Saturday

Nearly 1,200 companies based in Catalonia have re-registered in other parts of Spain since the referendum, hoping to minimise instability, according to the AFP news agency.

And Spain this week cut its national growth forecast for 2018 from 2.6% to 2.3%, blaming uncertainty over the future of Catalan independence.

Could Spain’s steps backfire?

James Badcock, BBC News, Madrid

The dissolution of Catalonia’s parliament and the holding of snap regional elections may appear to offer a way of defusing today’s state of extreme tension, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt that such a strategy would provide a clear solution to the crisis.

The far-left CUP party has suggested that it would boycott any election imposed on the region. Other pro-independence forces might do the same. Massive street protests against any form of direct rule from Madrid can also be expected.

Mr Puigdemont has promised to call a formal vote on independence in Catalonia’s parliament if Article 155 is invoked. If such a declaration were approved, the pro-independence forces could style the ballot as the election of a constituent assembly for a new republic, the next stage laid down in the pro-independence road map.

Assuming the participation of all parties, voters would be bound to interpret the election as a de facto vote on independence. If a separatist majority emerged once again, it is hard to see how the conflict could be considered closed.

Washington Post

Spain threatens to take over Catalonia’s government as constitutional crisis looms

The Catalan president won’t clarify independence plans and urges more dialogue with an increasingly impatient Madrid.

BARCELONA — Spain’s central government announced Thursday it would quickly move to take control of the autonomous Catalonia and restore “constitutional order” after the region’s president refused to back away from a push for independence.

Facing a deadline imposed by Spain’s central government to answer the question whether Catalonia was declaring independence or not, the regional president replied Thursday that Madrid should stop threatening to seize control of the autonomous region but instead agree to dialogue.

Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont answered Spain’s demand for clarity by sending a second letter to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, stating that Catalonia’s suspension of its declaration of independence remains in force.

But Puigdemont then added a threat of his own: if Madrid did not agree to talks, and continued its “repression” of the region, then the Catalan parliament would meet to vote on a formal declaration of independence.

The Catalan government’s decision to effectively decline to respond to Madrid’s ultimatum brings Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

The Spanish government moved Oct. 19 to begin procedures to take control of Catalonia. (The Washington Post)

The central government in Madrid on Thursday quickly responded that it would begin the legal procedures to implement Article 155 of the Spain’s 1978 constitution, which allows it to seize control of the regional government, finances and police. Madrid announced a meeting of ministers for an “extraordinary” session on Saturday to approve the measure.

Such a move would be unprecedented in Spain’s 40 years since the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

People in Catalonia — and around Spain — braced themselves for what comes next.

Pro-independence activists in Catalonia went into rushed meetings Thursday to organize mass demonstrations, distribute instructions for peaceful civil disobedience and plan to surround government buildings.

There was widespread anxiety in Barcelona over possible clashes between national police, sent to enforce a takeover, and pro-independence demonstrators.

The chief of Catalonia’s regional police, Josep Luis Trapero, has already been questioned by prosecutors over his alleged failure to protect federal forces sent into the region. Two other pro-independence activists have been jailed under suspecion of sedition. Puigdemont called them “political prisoners.”

Rajoy has threatened that if Catalonia declares independence he will seek permission from the upper house of parliament, where his party has a majority, to enact Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, an untested move.

No government has ever invoked the article, which allows the central government to take control of the autonomous government in Catalonia, a wealthy state in northeast Spain with a population of 7 million, with their own language and culture.

Catalonia already enjoys substantial control over its own affairs, with the regional government holding sway over health care, education, media and local police.

If Madrid enacts Article 155, Rajoy could appoint his own deputies to Barcelona to steer the regional government’s ministries. It is unclear what would happen to Puigdemont. He could remain in his position as regional president, but would be effectively powerless.

Earlier this month, Catalonia staged a chaotic independence referendum, marked by widespread civil disobedience, that was met by a harsh response that saw National Police and Guardia Civil officers beating voters with rubber batons and dragging away ballot boxes.

The central government, backed by the courts, had declared the referendum illegal and unconstitutional.

Still, many in Catalonia demanded the right to vote and saw Madrid acting with callous disregard to the people’s will. Though many polling stations were raided by police, more than two million people managed to vote — and 90 percent choose independence.

Critics charge that the referendum was hopelessly compromised, not only by riot police and legal challenges, but by low turnout — only 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

After the Oct. 1 referendum, Puigdemont signed an independence declaration, but then immediately suspended it, saying Catalonia wanted to negotiate with the central government, with help from Europe.

Leaders in Europe, though, condemned both the staging of the referendum and the police tactics, stressing it was an internal matter for Spain and that they would not recognize Catalonia as an independent nation and a member of the union.

When Spain’s prime minister spoke on Wednesday at the national parliament in Madrid. He was clearly frustrated.

“The only thing I am asking Mr. Puigdemont is that he act sensibly, that he act with balance, that he puts first the interests of all citizens, of all Spaniards and all Catalonians,” Rajoy said.

The central government has given Puigdemont a series of deadlines to declare whether the Catalan authorities were declaring independence.

On Monday, the first deadline, Puigdemont wrote a letter to Rajoy, calling instead for two months of dialogue and a halt to what he called Spain’s “repression” of Catalan citizens and institutions.

Rajoy said in parliament on Wednesday, “It’s simple and it’s not that difficult. It’s answering one question. Have you or have you not declared the independence of Catalonia? Because you understand if you have declared the independence of Catalonia, the government is obliged, because that is what it says in the constitution, that it must act in a certain way.”

Some leaders in Madrid said that Catalonia should suspend its declaration of independence and immediately move toward regional elections.

It is not clear what elections would solve. It is possible that pro-independence sentiment has only grown in Catalonia in recent weeks.

Spain to Move Ahead With Suspension of Catalonia’s Autonomy

October 19, 2017


By Ben Sills and Charles Penty

  • ‘All roads lead to new elections in Catalonia: Teneo’s Barroso
  • Rajoy convenes special cabinet meeting for Saturday in Madrid

Spain to Proceed With Suspending Catalan Autonomy

Spain will move forward with the process of suspending the powers of the Catalan government after Regional President Carles Puigdemont refused to drop his claim to independence.

Spanish stocks and bonds dropped as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government announced its unprecedented decision to directly intervene in Catalonia, a step that will further inflame the conflict over the future of Spain’s biggest regional economy.

Carles Puigdemont

Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

“The government will continue with the procedures set out in Article 155 of the Constitution to restore the legality of self-rule in Catalonia,” the government said in a statement on Thursday morning.

Spain deployed the ultimate constitutional weapon after Puigdemont said the regional parliament may declare independence unless the government in Madrid agrees to talks. Puigdemont’s response came to an ultimatum from Madrid to renounce his claims to full autonomy by Thursday or face the consequences.

‘Blocking Dialogue’

“If the central government persists in blocking dialogue and continues its repression, the Catalan Parliament may proceed, if it considers it appropriate, to approve a formal declaration of independence,” Puigdemont said in a letter to Rajoy.

Final line could be interpreted as puigdemont saying there was no declaration – ultima frase “que NO voto”

Rajoy, who is due to attend a two-day summit of European Union leaders in Brussels from Thursday, convened a special session of his cabinet on Saturday. Rajoy’s advisers were meeting with the opposition Socialists on Thursday morning to finalize the measures they plan to take.

“It looks like both parties are sticking to the script, which is trying to blame each other for what happens next,” said Antonio Barroso, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “The next step is that Rajoy will go the Senate to seek authorization to restore the rule of law in Catalonia.”

Regional Elections

The outcome is that “all roads lead to new elections in Catalonia,” Barroso said. “The question is how we get there. Puigdemont may try to beat Rajoy to it. It’s a way to keep up momentum for the independence movement.”

Spain’s benchmark stock index was down 0.9 percent as of 10:42 a.m. in Madrid. Ten-year government bond yields rose 3 basis points to 1.64 percent.

In an address to the regional parliament in Barcelona last week, the Catalan president said that an Oct. 1 referendum held in breach of Spanish law gave him the right to declare independence, but that he was suspending the drive for full autonomy in favor of dialogue.

In his letter to Rajoy, Puigdemont said that his request for a face-to-face meeting had been ignored, and that Spanish “repression” of Catalonia was being stepped up with the jailing of two separatist activists on Monday.

“My request for the repression to end has not been met either,” Puigdemont said. “On the contrary, it has increased.”

Catalonia facing threat of direct rule as Thursday deadline looms

October 19, 2017



© Pau Barrena / AFP | People demonstrate in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17, 2017.

Video by FRANCE 24


Latest update : 2017-10-19

Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont must abandon his bid for independence from Spain on Thursday or face an unprecedented move by Madrid to seek a suspension of his region’s autonomy.

Puigdemont, who sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1, has been ordered by Madrid to say by 10:00 am (0800 GMT) whether or not he is unilaterally declaring a split from Spain.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says it will trigger Article 155 of Spain’s constitution — a measure that would allow it to start imposing direct rule over semi-autonomous Catalonia — unless Puigdemont backs down.

Catalonia is deeply divided over whether to break away from Spain as Puigdemont has repeatedly threatened since the referendum, but the wealthy northeastern region is proud of its autonomy in one of the Western world’s most decentralised nations.

There are fears that moving to impose direct rule could further aggravate a crisis that has worried investors and added to the woes of a European Union already grappling with Brexit.

A top official in Puigdemont’s PDeCat party, Marta Pascal, told reporters that if Madrid triggers Article 155, then party members would ask him to declare independence outright.

But Madrid appeared to offer the separatists a potential last-minute way out in the form of fresh regional elections.

Polls sanctioned by Madrid — unlike the referendum, which the Constitutional Court ruled illegal — would allow Catalan voters to have a say on how to move forward.

A government source told AFP that elections could be considered “a return to legality” by Puigdemont, while opposition leader Pedro Sanchez said Madrid would “without a doubt” back off from triggering Article 155.

A Catalan government source said Wednesday that elections were “not one of our priorities” but did not rule them out.

“We are not going to react to non-official declarations from the government,” the source said. “We are waiting to see what (Madrid) will decide tomorrow.”

Barca footballers urge dialogue

Puigdemont claims the chaotic referendum resulted in a 90 percent “Yes” vote, but the turnout was only 43 percent as many supporters of Spanish unity stayed away.

Spain has been in limbo since the referendum, when images of police dragging voters by their hair and throwing them down stairs shocked the world.

Barcelona football club’s Camp Nou stadium displayed a massive banner emblazoned with the words “Dialogue, Respect and Sport” when it reopened Wednesday for its first match since playing to empty seats in protest at the violence against voters.

Puigdemont issued a cryptic “suspended” declaration of independence following the vote, saying he wanted time for talks with the government — a prospect Madrid has rejected.

“All I ask of Mr Puigdemont is that he acts with good sense,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told parliament Wednesday.

Catalans have grown increasingly frustrated with politicians’ failure to find a way out of the deadlock, while the prolonged uncertainty is taking a toll on one of Spain’s most important regional economies.

More than 800 companies have moved their headquarters out of Catalonia in a bid to minimise the instability, while the national government has cut its growth forecast to 2.3 percent next year, pointing blame at the crisis.

Separatists argue that Catalonia, which represents about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, pours more into the national coffers than it gets back and would prosper if it went its own way.

But opponents say the region has more clout as part of a bigger Spain and that the instability could be disastrous for its economy.


Spain to seek Catalonia autonomy suspension unless leader relents

October 18, 2017


© AFP | Catalonia held a banned independence referendum on October 1, sparking a political crisis in Spain
MADRID (AFP) – Spain will seek to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy unless the region’s leader abandons his push for independence, the country’s deputy prime minister said Wednesday, 24 hours before Madrid’s deadline.

If separatist leader Carles Puigdemont does not provide a satisfactory response by 0800 GMT Thursday, “Mr Puigdemont will provoke the application of article 155 of the constitution,” Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told parliament.

This provision of the constitution — which has never been used before — would open the way for Madrid to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region.

Triggering it could represent a drastic escalation of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades which was sparked when Catalonia held a banned independence referendum on October 1.

Puigdemont declared independence following the poll which he says resulted in a 90 percent “yes” vote, though turnout was only 43 percent as many supporters of Spanish unity stayed away in a region that is deeply divided on the issue.

But the Catalan leader said he was “suspending” independence to allow time for talks with the government — a prospect Madrid has rejected, leaving the country in limbo.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given Puigdemont until Thursday to come up with a definitive answer on the independence question, or face the consequences.

“All I ask of Mr Puigdemont is that he acts with good sense,” Rajoy told parliament on Wednesday.

The premier would need Senate approval to trigger article 155, but his conservative Popular Party has a majority there.

The move could ultimately allow Madrid to suspend the regional government and eventually trigger new elections for Catalonia, but such a move risks inflaming tensions in the region even further.

Independence decision day looms for Catalan leader

October 16, 2017


© AFP/File | Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has until Monday morning to clarify whether or not he declared independence

BARCELONA (AFP) – Spain watched nervously Monday as the clock ticked down on a deadline for Catalonia’s separatist president to decide if he wants to push ahead with independence despite international pleas for unity and dire economic warnings.Carles Puigdemont last week said he was ready for Catalonia to “become an independent state” following an independence referendum on October 1 that went ahead despite a court ban.

But he immediately said he was suspending secession to allow time for negotiations with Madrid.

His ambiguous announcement fell far short of satisfying Puigdemont’s separatist allies, who are agitating for an immediate break from Spain, and received short shrift in Madrid.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave Puigdemont until 10am (0800 GMT) Monday morning to clarify whether or not he declared independence, and said the central government was ready to take direct control of the region unless he backs down.

If he pushes ahead, Puigdemont will have a three-day grace period, until Thursday, to change his mind.

Anything less than a full climb-down will likely see Madrid start to suspend Catalan autonomy — an untested move many fear could lead to unrest.

European Union officials are keeping a close eye on developments amid fears that Catalan independence could put further strain on the bloc as it grapples with Britain’s shock decision to leave.

Catalan regional television TV3 reported that Puigdemont would not give a “yes or no” answer on independence on Monday and would instead give Madrid a “more elaborate” response.

That is likely to prolong Spain’s worst political crisis in decades and deepen uncertainty that has already led more than 500 firms to start leaving the region since the beginning of October.

– Economy fears –

Catalonia, home to 7.5 million people, has its own language and distinct culture, but is deeply divided over independence.

Separatists argue the prosperous region is helping to prop Spain up, saying it pays more in taxes than it gets back and that a break from the rest of the country would allow it to prosper.

The Spanish government says growing uncertainty over Catalonia, which is deeply indebted to Madrid and which cannot borrow internationally, imperils Spain’s recovery from the financial crisis.

The two biggest Catalan banks have already moved their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain, while ratings agency Standard and Poor’s has warned of a recession in the region if the crisis drags on.

Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist and father of two, is under intense pressure from Madrid and world leaders to back off, while being squeezed by his separatist allies to crack on with independence.

Rajoy said he is ready to invoke article 155 of Spain’s constitution, allowing him to retake full control of Catalonia — a so-called “nuclear option.”

And Puigdemont’s separatist allies have threatened mass strikes and protests in the event of a climb-down.

Adding to tensions is the expected appearance in court in Madrid of Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero to be questioned on suspicion of sedition for allegedly failing to stop the October 1 vote.


Catalan talks with Spain ‘would aim at independence’ — Clock is ticking toward Monday deadline

October 14, 2017


© AFP/File | Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has until Monday morning to decide whether to declare Catalonia independent or not

BARCELONA (AFP) – A senior Catalan official on Saturday said an offer of talks with Madrid over his region’s independence push was aimed at negotiating secession from Spain, not stopping it.Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras said dialogue with the central government “must have at its heart the formation of the (Catalan) republic and our commitment to independence.

“We need to be clear that the best way of achieving an independent republic is to talk to everyone, including the international community,” Junqueras told members of his Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party in Barcelona.

The wealthy region’s drive to break away from Spain has unleashed the country’s worst political crisis in a generation.

After staging a banned referendum on October 1, in which separatists say 90 percent of people voted for secession, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said he had accepted a “mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state.”

He immediately suspended the declaration, however, ostensibly to allow time for dialogue with Madrid.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has repeatedly said Catalan independence is not up for discussion, responded by giving Puigdemont a deadline to make up his mind.

The journalist-turned-politician now has until Monday morning to declare Catalonia independent or not.

If he does, he has until October 19 to change his mind or Rajoy has said Madrid will start taking direct control over the semi-autonomous region.

As the standoff has dragged on, dozens of companies have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, and concerns are rising that the crisis will severely damage the region’s economy and even dampen Spain’s growth prospects.

Puigdemont is under pressure from Madrid and EU states to remain part of Spain but also from his allies in the Catalan parliament who want the region to break away immediately.

Junqueras, who is under investigation for civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds over the referendum, said Catalans needed to be united “for the good of (Catalonia).”

Spanish government and the IMF issuing dire warnings about Catalonia’s move toward independence

October 14, 2017
Catalan separatists continue their push for independence despite the Spanish government and the IMF issuing dire warnings about the nation’s finances.

AFP – SBS Wires
October 13, 2017

The International Monetary Fund and the Spanish government warned Friday the country’s economic growth could be dealt a blow if Catalonia’s drive to break away persists, just as the Catalan leader’s separatist allies pressed him to go ahead with independence.

The central government has given Carles Puigdemont until next Thursday to abandon Catalonia’s push for secession, failing which it may trigger unprecedented constitutional steps that could see Madrid take control of the semi-autonomous region.

Puigdemont’s separatist allies pressed him Friday to defy Madrid and declare independence.

But with dozens of companies having already moved their legal headquarters from Catalonia, concerns are rising that growth in the region could take a hit, and by extension that of Spain as a whole.

In Washington, IMF Europe Director Poul Thomsen said: “If there was prolonged uncertainty, that could weigh on growth, and obviously we want to avoid that.”

Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria warned that if “there is no quick solution, we see ourselves having to lower economic forecasts for 2018”.

Spain issues Catalonia a deadline to clarify independence claim

‘Domino effect’

She accused Puigdemont of “seriously damaging Catalonia’s economic stability” as uncertainty over the fate of the region of 7.5 million people damages business confidence.

The eurozone’s fourth largest economy said in July it expected growth of 2.6 percent next year.

Spain’s Association of Registrars said Friday that 540 firms had sought to relocate their legal addresses from Catalonia from October 2-11.

Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s said the region’s economy risked sliding into recession if the crisis dragged on.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday he was against Catalan independence because it could trigger a separatist domino effect in the EU.

“I wouldn’t like to have a European Union which consists of 98 states in 15 years’ time,” he said during a speech in Luxembourg. “It’s already relatively difficult at 28, no easier at 27 (after Britain leaves), but at 98, that seems impossible.”

The Mobile World Congress, the phone industry’s largest annual trade fair held every year in Barcelona, said it would hold its 2018 in February as planned, after media reports suggested it was considering delaying.

A spokeswoman told AFP “we are continuing to monitor developments in Spain and Catalonia and assess any potential impact.”

Meanwhile Spain’s CEOE business lobby group said this week that Catalonia was already “seriously affected” by the crisis.

Ricardo Mur, vice-president of the Aragon Business Confederation said the region, which borders Catalonia, had seen a surge in activity.

“Industrial estates are almost full due to the transfer of Catalan businesses,” he told AFP.

Catalonia’s separatist push has ended

Pressure to break away

But Puigdemont is also under pressure from his separatist allies who feel that any decision to back down would infuriate hundreds of thousands of Catalans who voted to split from Spain in a banned referendum.

On Friday, the far-left CUP party, an ally of his coalition government, said in an open letter that “only by proclaiming a republic will we be able to respect what the majority expressed in the polls.”

The referendum took place on October 1 despite a court ban that ruled it unconstitutional, and regional authorities say 90 percent chose to split from Spain in a vote marred by police violence.

Turnout was 43 percent, they say, but the figures are impossible to verify as the referendum was not held according to official electoral standards.

Adding to pressure, Catalonia is deeply divided over independence, and those who want to stay in Spain are increasingly making their voices heard, having staged two mass rallies in just five days.

Puigdemont had pledged to declare independence if the “yes” vote won, but on Tuesday he gave an ambiguous statement.

Saying he accepted a mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state,” he immediately suspended the declaration, calling for more time for talks with Madrid.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy retorted that Puigdemont had until next Monday to clarify whether or not he would press ahead with secession and then until next Thursday to reconsider, otherwise Madrid would act. He rejected any form of mediation.

Apart from the CUP’s open letter, the Catalan National Assembly, an influential pro-independence association whose followers are ready to take to the streets, also called on him to lift his suspension of the independence declaration.

Spanish Cabinet meets on Catalonia; Rajoy to address parl’t — Catalan leader “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go.”

October 11, 2017

The Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish Cabinet met in Madrid Wednesday to work out its response to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence, further fueling Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who is due to address the national parliament later in the day, chaired the closed-doors meeting at the government’s headquarters in the Moncloa Palace, on the outskirts of Madrid.

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont said late Tuesday that he would proceed with the secession but would suspend it for a few weeks to facilitate negotiations. But the government has given little indication it is willing to talk.

In a highly anticipated speech, Puigdemont said the landslide victory in a disputed Oct. 1 referendum gave his government in the regional capital, Barcelona, the grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain.

But he proposed that the regional parliament suspend the effects of the declaration to commence a dialogue and help reduce tension.

The central government in Madrid responded that it did not accept the declaration and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Catalan leader “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go.”

She said Puigdemont had put Catalonia “in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet.”

One of the government’s options Wednesday could be to set about applying Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don’t comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.

Some 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region — voted in the referendum. Regional authorities say 90 percent were in favor and declared the results valid. Those who opposed the referendum had said they would boycott the vote.

Rajoy’s government had repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, since it would only poll a portion of Spain’s 46 million residents.

Catalonia’s separatist camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain’s recent economic crisis and by Madrid’s rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.

The political deadlock has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

Spain warns Catalan leader ahead of independence showdown

October 10, 2017


© AFP / by Daniel Bosque with Patrick Galey in Madrid | Supporters of independence wave Catalan flags as they drive with tractors in Barcelona on October 10, 2017

BARCELONA (AFP) – The Spanish government and the European Union warned Catalonia’s separatist leader Tuesday against declaring independence, shortly before he announces a possible split from Spain under intense domestic and European scrutiny.Catalan president Carles Puigdemont arrived at the regional parliament in Barcelona under the glare of cameras from around the world, ready to address lawmakers at 1600 GMT.

Whether or not he will follow through on his threat to announce a full breakaway in defiance of the central government and Spanish courts is still unknown.

But in Madrid, the Spanish government issued a sharp warning to Puigdemont as it grapples with the nation’s worst political crisis in a generation.

“We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.

– ‘Dialogue impossible’ –

EU President Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.

Police increased security around the parliament, blocking public access to a park that houses the building.

As police helicopters flew overhead, several thousand independence supporters gathered not far from parliament to watch proceedings on two giant screens.

Some 30 tractors driven by farmers from the region also came in support of independence, decorated with the Catalan separatist flag, some with signs reading “democracy.”

– Madrid will act –

At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union.

Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have come out against an independence declaration, concerned over the country’s biggest upheaval since its transition to democracy in the 1970s.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his legal power to prevent independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous region — an unprecedented move many fear could lead to unrest.

And Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria once again rejected mediation.

“There is no room for mediation between legality and illegality, between the law and contempt of the law, between democracy and tyranny,” she told the upper house Senate during a tense debate Tuesday.

But the Catalan president says the independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban justifies splitting from Madrid.

Around 90 percent of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession boycotted an illegal plebiscite that was witnessed a violent police crackdown.

– Anger on both sides –

On Monday, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned that a unilateral declaration of independence would put “social cohesion” at risk.

Pro-unity and pro-independence supporters have staged mass rallies in Barcelona over the past week, highlighting divisions in Catalonia.

Anger over the police violence during the referendum swung some Catalans over to the independence camp.

But both Madrid and the Catalan executive have come under fire for their dogged response to the crisis and a lack of dialogue.

Carolina Palles, a 53-year-old flower vendor in Barcelona’s popular La Ramblas boulevard, said it was “a sad day”, almost two months after the seaside city was hit by a deadly terror attack.

Against independence, she was angry at both camps.

“Rajoy’s government handled things very badly,” she said, accusing the separatists “of persisting until the very end, like martyrs”.

– Companies leaving –

Short of declaring an outright split in his speech, the Catalan leader could play for time and call for dialogue, or back down outright from his secessionist demands.

EU nations are watching developments closely amid concern that Catalan independence could put further pressure on the bloc still dealing with the fallout from Britain’s shock decision to leave.

The crisis has also caused deep uncertainty for businesses in one of the wealthiest regions in the eurozone’s fourth largest economy.

A string of companies have already moved their legal headquarters — but not their employees — from Catalonia to other parts of the country.

Demands for independence in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, date back centuries.

But a 2010 move by Spain’s Constitutional Court to water down a statute that gave Catalonia additional powers, combined with a deep economic meltdown in Spain, sparked a surge in support for independence.


by Daniel Bosque with Patrick Galey in Madrid