Posts Tagged ‘pro-independence’

Nationalist gains in Corsica set to pose dilemma for Macron

December 10, 2017


© AFP/File / by Maureen COFFLARD with Adam PLOWRIGHT in Paris | The governing Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance won 45 percent in a first round of voting.

AJACCIO (FRANCE) (AFP) – Nationalists on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica are set to cement their gains in regional elections on Sunday and then push ahead with their demands for greater autonomy from Paris.The outcome is widely expected to pose a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron who will have to decide whether to cede some control or maintain France’s tradition of highly centralised government.

The governing Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance — made up of the pro-autonomy Femu a Corsica (Let’s Make Corsica) and pro-independence Corsica Libera (Free Corsica) — won 45 percent in a first round of voting last Sunday.

They are expected to extend their gains in the final round on Sunday that will see them dominate a new regional assembly which will begin its work at the start of 2018.

The vote comes amid a political crisis in Spain — with potentially major consequences for the European Union — following efforts by Catalan nationalists to break away from Madrid.

The leaders of Pe a Corsica have stressed throughout that their short-term goal is greater autonomy, rather than independence from France — not least because the mountainous island is dependent on state spending.

They have formulated three core demands: they want equal recognition for the Corsican language along with French and an amnesty for convicts they consider to be political prisoners.

They also want the state to recognise a special Corsican residency status — which would be used to fight against property speculation fuelled by foreigners snapping up holiday homes.

Opinion polls show that most of Corsica’s 330,000 residents, many of whom live off seasonal tourism or are employed in the public sector, want to remain in France.

– Economic dependency –

Even separatist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni — nicknamed by some “the Corsican Puigdemont” after the Catalan leader — suggests the island would split from France in 10 or 15 years at the earliest, if a majority supported it.

“An economically viable Corsica — I don’t think we’ll see it in my lifetime,” a Corsica specialist at the University of Bordeaux, Thierry Dominici, told AFP last week.

That is not the case for Catalonia, where separatists complain that their wealthy region, representing a fifth of Spain’s economic output, pays more than it gets back into national coffers.

The mountainous island, famed for having some of the best beaches in Europe and for being the birthplace of Napoleon, was once a hotbed of violent anti-French militancy.

The National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) waged a four-decade bombing campaign — mainly targeting state infrastructure — until 2014.

The worst nationalist attack saw France’s top official on the island, Claude Erignac, assassinated in 1998.

by Maureen COFFLARD with Adam PLOWRIGHT in Paris

La Caixa foundation, Caixabank to move HQ from Catalonia to Mallorca

October 7, 2017

La Caixa Banking Foundation, which manages the holding company which controls Caixabank , said on Saturday it will move its headquarters to Palma de Mallorca for as long as political upheaval in Catalonia continues.

MADRID: La Caixa Banking Foundation, which manages the holding company which controls Caixabank , said on Saturday it will move its headquarters to Palma de Mallorca for as long as political upheaval in Catalonia continues.

Caixbank said on Friday it has decided to move its registered office to Valencia in light of the situation in Catalonia, which is set to claim independence from the rest of Spain following a disputed independence referendum.

(Reporting by Paul Day; editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: Reuters



Spooked businesses shift headquarters out of Catalonia — “Coexistence is broken”

October 6, 2017

OCTOBER 06, 2017 2:48 PM

If Catalonia goes independent, these places could be next — “The Europe of regions is making a comeback.”

October 6, 2017

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A demonstration for Catalonian independence in Spain. (Photo: Day Donaldson)

By Holly Ellyatt


Catalonia might be the separatist region making headlines at the moment but Europe has many other separatist movements that are closely watching developments in northeastern Spain.

Separatist movements in Europe can range from small townships to entire regions and the motivations for wanting to go it alone are equally as diverse encompassing linguistic and cultural differences as well as economic and historical justifications. While some separatist movements harbor dreams of gaining just a bit more autonomy from the national government, others like Catalonia are aimed at gaining full independence and nothing less.

Countries like Germany and Italy where states can have very distinct linguistic, cultural and historical differences tend to have numerous and significant separatist movements to contend with. Geographical characteristics can play a part too with islands — such as Sicily or the Faroe Islands (between Norway, Scotland and Iceland) — and peninsulas (such as Cornwall, in southwest England) often seeking more autonomy or independence, feeling “separated” and far from the centers of power.

Spain not the only country with secessionist problems, economist says

Spain not the only country with secessionist problems, economist says  

Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC on Wednesday that “the Europe of regions is making a comeback.”

“Too many countries in the European Union have secessionist problems, including the U.K., Belgium and Italy and this is not a unique problem,” he said.

Here. CNBC highlights some of the larger and long-standing separatist movements that are monitoring Catalonia’s referendum with interest.

A Venetian autonomist screams pro independence slogan on April 25, 2014 in Venice, Italy. The march, which takes place on St Mark's day, had been banned by the Police for reasons of public order.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images
A Venetian autonomist screams pro independence slogan on April 25, 2014 in Venice, Italy. The march, which takes place on St Mark’s day, had been banned by the Police for reasons of public order.

Venice and Lombardy

Italy’s wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto are both eyeing referendums on October 22 aimed at gaining more autonomy.

Both regions have strong separatist movements, mainly driven by resentment at the perception that taxpayers’ money is spent in the poorer south of the country. As with Catalonia and Spain, Italy’s Constitutional Court has blocked the regions’ plans to hold a referendum on independence and so the citizens in each region will be asked if they want more autonomy (and more money) from the national government.

“Too many countries in the European Union have secessionist problems”-Willem Buiter, Chief economist at Citi

Known for being the city of romance rather than rampant nationalism, it’s worth remembering that Venice only became a part of Italy in 1866. In 2014, Venice had its own non-binding referendum on independence in which 2.1 million citizens (89 percent of the vote) voted for independence. Many voters feel that their taxes go to the poorer south rather than contributing to investment in the region.

Picture taken 14 May 2007 of two billboards pasted on a shopwindow by a local resident of Ninovse Steenweg, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek / Chaussee de Ninove, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, expressing his opinion in favour of two republics ie Flanders and Wallonia, instead of the Belgium monarchy, that would cost less money for Belgian citizens (200 millions Euro for monarchy every year while only 1 million Euro for a President). The message warn the population saying ' Think at your pensions, Think at your salary'.

Picture taken 14 May 2007 of two billboards pasted on a shopwindow by a local resident of Ninovse Steenweg, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek / Chaussee de Ninove, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, expressing his opinion in favour of two republics ie Flanders and Wallonia, instead of the Belgium monarchy, that would cost less money for Belgian citizens (200 millions Euro for monarchy every year while only 1 million Euro for a President). The message warn the population saying ‘ Think at your pensions, Think at your salary’.

Flanders and Wallonia

Belgium is a country split between three communities, languages and regions. Flanders and the Flemish community is in the north of the country (where Dutch or Belgian Dutch – also known as Flemish) is spoken. Then there is the mainly French-speaking south, known as Wallonia and just to complicate matters further, there is a German-speaking region in the far east of the country. There are also considerable movements within each of these regions striving for independence.

Political groups such as the New Flemish Alliance, a nationalist, conservative group which is dominant in the Belgian parliament, advocate a gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium. Euronews reported that the party even hung a Catalan flag outside its headquarters recently in support of the Spanish separatist region. With elections in 2019, the issue of Flemish independence is not likely to disappear soon.

The Basque Country

One region of Spain that is certainly watching events in Catalonia with interest is the Basque Country, an “autonomous community” situated on the north coast of Spain.

Like Catalonia, the Basque Country has its own language and distinct culture. Unlike Catalonia, it also has a history of some violent separatism with various terrorist attacks carried out by the nationalist and separatist group Eta. The armed movement for independence called a ceasefire in 2010 which was made permanent in 2011, however.

Separatist movements remain a force to be reckoned with in the region, with a spokesman for the region’s largest separatist party – the Basque Nationalist Party – saying recently that he hopes the region could have its own vote on independence just like Catalonia.

South Tyrol

The South Tyrol region is found in the northern-most part of Italy and is also known as the Alto Adige, but is distinctly un-Italian with German being the predominant language with only around a quarter of the region’s 510,000 inhabitants speaking Italian.

Despite being an autonomous province since 1972, giving it a greater level of self-determination – the region has a secessionist movement that would like to secede from Italy and reunify with Austria. The region was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was annexed to Italy following the World War I.

Hundreds of Yes supporters gather in George Square to show their support for the independence referendum

Jeff J Mitchell I Getty Images
Hundreds of Yes supporters gather in George Square to show their support for the independence referendum


One country looking at the Catalan referendum with interest is Scotland. Despite holding its own legal and U.K.-government approved referendum on independence back in 2014, which separatists lost with 55 percent of voters choosing to stay a part of the U.K., the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has not given up hope that another vote could be held sooner rather than later.

Following the vote in Catalonia last Sunday, the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, said that the “strength of feeling” in Catalonia “cannot be ignored” but she added that talks needed to be held by both sides.

Sturgeon was close to calling a second referendum on independence in Scotland recently but the party lost a number seats during the 2017 general election this year. Political analysts saw these losses as signifying that Scottish voters have little appetite for another vote on the matter, especially so close to the last one in 2014.

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See also:

Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe’s geopolitical conundrum

‘Is this what Spain is about?’ Catalans look to EU after referendum crackdown

October 2, 2017


© Jose Jordan, AFP | Supporters of Catalan independence gather on Barcelona’s main square as they wait for the results of the October 1 referendum on independence from Spain.

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-10-02

Catalan separatists are hoping Sunday’s violent police crackdown on those trying to vote in an independence referendum will persuade EU leaders to intervene in their intensifying dispute with the government in Madrid.

An elderly woman forcibly dragged from a polling booth, another with blood trickling down her face and police attacking firefighters as they tried to protect the crowds of Catalan voters – all of this in a stable European democracy.

The shocking scenes of violence that marred Catalonia’s independence vote on Sunday made headlines around the world, threatening to turn the already divisive vote into a public relations debacle for Spain’s central government.

The actions of the authorities contrasted sharply with the calm determination and composure shown by those who turned out to take part in a vote that Spain’s constitutional court had declared illegal.

Catalan officials said more than 90 percent of voters had said ‘Yes’ to independence from Spain, although turnout was estimated at just over 42 percent, with 2.26 million voters having defied Madrid’s injunction not to take part in the referendum.

“We showed we are a united and peaceful people,” said Artur, 30, who spent much of the day guarding a polling station at the Miguel de Cervantes school in Barcelona to prevent police from seizing the ballot boxes.

‘Strategy of repression’

But while Catalan separatists have largely succeeded in holding a vote the Spanish government had promised to thwart, few were in the mood to claim victory after Sunday’s chaotic scenes.

“At what price?” asked Cristina, 48, after casting her ballot in the Catalan regional capital. “It has been a day of suffering, with many injured people still in hospital, unable to vote.”

Catalan officials said 844 people had sought medical care while the Spanish interior ministry said 33 police officers had also been injured.

Like many others in Barcelona, Cristina was baffled by the Spanish government’s “strategy of repression”.

“Is this what Spain is about?” she fumed. “This isn’t democracy! […] If the [Spanish] government said this referendum doesn’t count, then why did it use such force?”

The people being hit by police did not come out to protest or riot, they are trying to enter a polling location.

Sharing Cristina’s outrage was her sister Myriam, who likened the riot police’s “Robocop” methods to those of the Franco era.

“They used rubber bullets, even though they are banned here in Catalonia,” she said.

Myriam noted the contrast with the conduct of the Catalan regional police force, known as the Mossos, who mostly refused to enforce Madrid’s orders and sometimes sided with the crowd.

Pressure on Rajoy

While Madrid praised the riot police for “acting with professionalism and responding proportionately”, opposition figures were scathing in their criticism of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who adopted a neutral tone in the run-up to the vote, said Rajoy had “crossed all the red lines with the police actions against normal people, old people, families who were defending their fundamental rights”.

She called Rajoy a “coward” and urged him to resign.

Miguel Urban, a member of the European Parliament and spokesman for the left-wing Podemos movement, said the government had been irresponsible in claiming to “defend democracy with batons”.

“We need to unite to drive Rajoy out of power,” he added.

Meanwhile, the head of Catalonia’s regional government, Carles Puigdemont, said Sunday’s events showed Catalans had “won the right to become an independent state”. He called on Europe to step in to make sure fundamental rights were fully respected.

A spokesman for his administration, Jordi Turull, said the “savage” actions of the Spanish police had turned Spain into “the shame of Europe”.

Europe’s muted response

Catalan separatists are now hoping the fallout from the violent vote will spur European governments into action.

So far, EU officials and most member states have been reluctant to intercede in the escalating dispute between Spain’s central government and its richest region, viewing it as an internal Spanish matter.

But Sunday’s violence, witnessed by European observers at polling stations in Catalonia, has put pressure on Spain’s European partners to speak out.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was among the few national leaders to urge restraint, writing on Twitter that, “Violence can never be the answer!”

Former Belgian premier and senior European lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt said that while he did “not want to interfere” in Spain’s domestic affairs, “I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia.”

In other countries, governments faced calls from opposition leaders to denounce the police brutality, which Germany’s Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz described as a “worrying” escalation.

In Britain, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the “shocking” violence used against Catalan citizens while Scotland’s pro-independence leader, Nicola Sturgeon, called on Spain to “change course before someone is seriously hurt”.

But by Sunday evening Rajoy had given no indication that he planned to soften his stance, doubling down by denying that the vote had even taken place.

“Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said, blaming the violence on “those who violated the law”.

In a warning to his opponents in Barcelona, he noted that he still enjoyed “the unconditional support of all European leaders.”


See also The Telegraph:

Catalonian referendum violence plunges EU into crisis as ’90pc of voters back independence’

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Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP

Spanish police use axes to smash their way into Catalan voting center

October 1, 2017

The Associated Press

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Spanish Civil Guard officers break through a door at a polling station for the banned independence referendum. Reuters

SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, Spain — Spanish riot police smashed their way into the polling station where Catalonia’s regional leader was due to vote in the disputed independence referendum on Sunday.Scuffles erupted outside between police and people waiting to vote.

Civil Guard officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used a hammer to break the glass of the front door and a lock cutter to break into the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center near the city of Girona. At least one woman was injured outside the building and wheeled away on a stretcher by paramedics.

Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and not long before Catalonia regional president Carles Puigdemont was expected to turn up to vote. Polling station workers inside the building reacted peacefully and broke out into songs and chants challenging the officers’ presence.

National Police and Civil Guard officers also showed up in other polling centers where Catalan officials were expected.

Catalans defied rain and police orders to leave designated polling stations for the banned referendum on the region’s secession that has challenged Spain’s political and institutional order.

The country’s Constitutional Court has suspended the vote and the Spanish central government says it’s illegal.

Regional separatist leaders have pledged to hold it anyway, promising to declare independence if the “yes” side wins, and have called on 5.3 million eligible voters to cast ballots.

Reporters with The Associated Press saw ballot boxes wrapped in plastic bags being carried into some of the polling stations in Barcelona occupied by parents, children and activists before some polling stations could open at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) as scheduled.

The plastic ballot boxes, bearing the seal of the Catalan regional government, were placed on tables, prompting the cheering of hopeful voters that had gathered in schools before dawn.

Some 2,300 facilities had been designated as polling stations, but it was unclear how many were able to open. The Ministry of Interior didn’t provide a number late on Saturday when it said that “most” of them had been sealed off and that only “some” remained occupied.

Police have received orders to avoid the use of force and only have been warning people to vacate the facilities. They are also supposed to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes.


In an effort to overcome myriad obstacles, Catalan officials announced that voters would be allowed to cast ballots in any location and using ballots printed at home, rather than in designated polling stations as previously announced.

Regional government spokesman Jordi Turull also said that a group of “academics and professionals” would serve as election observers. The official electoral board appointed by the regional parliament was disbanded last week to avoid hefty fines by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

“We are under conditions to be able to celebrate a self-determination referendum with guarantees,” Turull said in a press conference. “Our goal is that all Catalans can vote.”

Tension has been on the rise since the vote was called in early September, crystalizing years of defiance by separatists in the affluent region, which contributes a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 trillion-euro economy ($1.32 trillion.)

Spain’s 2008-2013 financial crisis and harsh austerity measures fueled frustration in Catalonia for setbacks in efforts to gain greater autonomy, with many Catalans feeling they could do better on their own.

Courts and police have been cracking down for days to halt the vote, confiscating 10 million paper ballots and arresting key officials involved in the preparations. On Saturday, Civil Guard agents dismantled the technology to connect voting stations, count the votes and vote online, leading the Spanish government to announce that holding the referendum would be “impossible.”

Joaquim Bosch, a 73-year-old retiree at Princep de Viana high school, where a crowd of 20 people was growing Sunday morning, said he was uneasy about a possible police response to the crowds.


Independence vote: Police seize Catalan referendum ballot boxes

October 1, 2017

Catalan officials have told people to print their own ballots and vote at any open polling station as police confiscate ballot boxes and surround voting spots. Thousands of officers are in Catalonia to stop the vote.

Catalan police watching a polling station (Getty Images/AFP/C. Manso)

Spanish police and Civil Guard officers have begun seizing ballot boxes and voting papers, the country’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that confrontations between voters and police had occurred in Barcelona.

“These are the first ballot boxes and ballots seized by police in Barcelona. Officers are continuing their deployment in Catalonia,” the Interior Ministry said in a Twitter message that included a picture of four plastic ballot boxes and piles of ballots.

Ballot papers with the seal of the Catalan government and boxes had appeared at dozens of referendum sites in Catalonia overnight Sunday amid chants of “Votarem” (We will vote), despite earlier claims by the Spanish government that it had succeeded in stopping the “illegal” referendum.

DW’s Mariel Müller was on hand when the boxes arrived at one school.

Many supporters of Catalan independence spent the night in schools and other polling places in an effort to keep them open until voting begins Sunday at 9 a.m. (0700 UTC). A government official said parents and students were “peacefully” occupying 163 schools.

Thousands of people began to stand in line outside polling stations on Sunday morning from 5 a.m. local time.

Around the same time, 30 civil guard vans and trucks with police left Barcelona port. Police have been brought in from other regions of Spain to prevent the vote taking place. At one, a Barcelona school, organizers asked people to use passive resistance if police intervened, Reuters news agency reported.

Catalan government officials said Saturday morning that people could use ballots they print at home and vote at any open polling station if their designated booth was closed.


Read more: Catalan independence – what you need to know

Resolving a serious political battle

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called for “mediation” Saturday to resolve the “serious” political battle dividing his regional authority from the central government in Madrid.

“If the yes wins, if the no wins — in any scenario there must be mediation because things aren’t working,” he said in an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Puigdemont did no say directly who should mediate Spain’s internal feud but indicated that the European Union should fill the void.

“I think that from now it would be logical for the EU to actively monitor [the situation] and actively take an interest,” he said.  “If it doesn’t take an interest in what is happening in Catalonia when everyone is watching and taking an interest, there’s something wrong.”

But Brussels has preferred to sit on the sidelines of what it views as an internal dispute in Spain. The block has only warned Catalans that if they were to secede from Spain they would have to apply for EU membership, which Madrid would have authority to block.

Voting stations blocked

Meanwhile, the Spanish government said the majority of designated voting stations in Catalonia had been shut down to prevent the banned referendum from going ahead.

Watch video02:50

Catalan referendum — Stay or go?

Madrid, which has declared the referendum illegal, has vowed to block the poll. Thousands of extra police have been deployed to the northeastern region with orders to evacuate and shut down potential voting stations by 6 a.m. on Sunday. Police have been given orders to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes and to refrain from using force.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis called Catalonia’s plan to hold the independence referendum “a mockery of democracy.”

Organizers press ahead with vote

Despite government efforts to prevent the vote from taking place, Catalan leaders say it will go ahead as planned.

Puigdemont insisted that everything was set-up so that the referendum “takes place normally.” He said his supporters would cast ballots on Sunday as planned.

At a press conference Friday, Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras said that if “someone closes a polling station, there is an alternative for citizens to vote,” without giving further details.

Referendum organizers asked voters to turn up at 7 a.m. ahead of the polls opening at 9 a.m. “We must organize it so that there are long queues to give the image to the world that we are going to vote,” instructions sent to voters read.

“Act in a peaceful way and do not respond to any provocation, from other citizens or from police.”

Huge protests

Thousands of people gathered in central Madrid on Saturday to protest against the planned secession vote. Waving Spanish flags, they chanted “Viva Espana,” “Spanish unity” and “Catalonia is Spain.” Some of the protesters also called for pro-independence Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to be put in jail.

DW journalist Peter Geoghegan was in Barcelona during a Spanish unity rally while DW’s Mariel Müller could not find anyone ready to vote “no” in the referendum.

Met plenty of anti independence supporters in Barcelona too. ‘Spain is a family. Catalonia is part of that family’. None said they’ll vote

Catalans get ready for disputed . I spoke to some about the reasons for their decision. (I couldn’t find a “No” voter)

The unity demonstration was the largest in the Spanish capital since the referendum was called earlier this year. Similar rallies also took place in other cities, including Malaga, Cordoba, Seville, Santander, Palma de Mallorca and Zaragoza.

The atmosphere was different in Catalonia’s regional capital Barcelona on Friday night, as huge crowds turned out to show their support for the independence campaign. Earlier in the day, farmers drove tractors through the center of the city, vowing to help protect polling stations from police.

A demonstration for Catalan independenceProtesters wave Catalan flags at an independence campaign rally in Barcelona

A large majority of Catalans back the idea of holding a legitimate referendum, but they are split over independence itself.

jm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)


Catalans gather to vote in referendum banned by Spain

October 1, 2017

Reuters and AFP

Reuters Video:

© PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP | People gather inside a would-be polling station in Barcelona, on October 1, 2017, to prevent the police to seal it off in a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid.

Video by Sarah MORRIS


Latest update : 2017-10-01

Thousands of Catalans gathered at designated polling stations on Sunday morning as they sought to defy Spanish authorities by voting in a banned independence referendum that has raised fears of unrest in the wealthy northeastern region.

The referendum, declared illegal by Spain‘s central government, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and raised fears of street violence as a test of will between Madrid and Barcelona plays out.

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 Catalans camped out at the Miquel Tarradell school on Saturday. Credit Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Civil Guard national police also streamed in a convoy through the streets of Barcelona in the early morning, but at dawn there was no sign of either national or Catalan police enforcing a court order to lock down the polling stations.

At some stations, voters blocked doors in anticipation that police could try to enter and take over the sites. At one, a Barcelona school, organisers asked people to use passive resistance if police intervened.

“I have got up early because my country needs me,” said Eulalia Espinal, a 65-year-old pensioner who started queuing with around 100 others outside one polling station, a Barcelona school, in rain at about 5 a.m. (0300 GMT).

“We don’t know what’s going to happen but we have to be here,” she said.


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‘Yes’ result likely, if some voting goes ahead

Organisers had asked voters to turn out hours before polling stations were supposed to open at 9 a.m., and called for “massive” crowds by 7.30 a.m., hoping for this to be the world’s first image of voting day.

Leading up to the referendum, Spanish police arrested Catalan officials, seized campaigning leaflets, sealed off many of the 2,300 schools designated as polling stations and occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub.

But Catalan leaders, backed by pro-independence supporters, have refused to abandon their plans. Families have occupied scores of schools earmarked as voting centres, sleeping overnight in an attempt to prevent police from sealing them off.

If some voting goes ahead, a “yes” result is likely, given that many unionists are not expected to turn out.

“If I can’t vote, I want to turn out in the streets and say sincerely that we want to vote,” said independence supporter Jose Miro, a 60-year-old schools inspector.

Only the Catalan police, or Mossos d’Esquadra, have so far been monitoring polling stations. They are held in affection by Catalans, especially after they hunted down Islamists accused of staging deadly attacks in the region in August.

Madrid’s crackdown undermines vote

Pro-independence Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont originally said that if the “yes” vote won, the Catalan government would declare independence within 48 hours, but regional leaders have since acknowledged Madrid’s crackdown has undermined the vote.

Markets have reacted cautiously but calmly to the situation so far, though credit rating agency S&P said on Friday that protracted tensions in Catalonia could hurt Spain’s economic outlook. The region accounts for about a fifth of the economy.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court, and Madrid has the ultimate power under its 1978 charter to suspend the regional government’s authority to rule if it declares independence.

The Madrid government, which has sent thousands of police to Catalonia to enforce a court ban on the vote, believes it has done enough to prevent any meaningful referendum taking place.

Farmers have used tractors to guard polling stations in 30 Catalan towns, according to Spanish media reports. They included one at a sports centre in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, where Puigdemont was scheduled to vote later.

At other polling centres, activists carried away schools’ iron gates to make it harder to seal them off.

A minority of around 40 percent of Catalans support independence, polls show, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue. The region of 7.5 million people has an economy larger than that of Portugal.



Spain, Catalonia Clash Over Policing as Illegal Independence Vote Nears

September 23, 2017

MADRID — The mounting political crisis in Spain over Catalonia’s campaign for independence intensified on Saturday with a new row over the control of the local police force as the regional government pressed ahead with plans to hold an illegal vote next weekend.

The State prosecutor in Catalonia told all local and national police forces on Saturday that they had been temporarily placed under a single chain of command reporting directly to the interior ministry in Madrid.

But Catalonia’s interior chief, Joaquim Forn, said his department and the local police, or Mossos d’Esquadra, did not accept this decision.

“We denounce the intervention of the state to control the police forces of Catalonia … We will not accept this control,” Forn said in a televised speech.

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Spain’s government moves to halt independence vote for Catalonia, sparking protests

It was not immediately clear whether the regional administration and the Mossos could actually oppose the decision, as Spanish laws allow for the possibility of state police taking the lead over the police of an autonomous community during a joint operation.

The central government representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, had earlier said the Mossos remained in charge of security in Catalonia though they would be “coordinated” directly by the interior ministry and not by the local authorities, together with two national police forces also on the ground in Catalonia.

“We are not taking over the police competencies of the regional government,” Millo told reporters after an event held by his People’s Party (PP) in Palma de Mallorca, in Eastern Spain.

Millo also called on Catalan leaders, including Forn, to stop encouraging street protests and demonstrations.

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Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia said the prosecutor’s order would remain in place until at least Oct. 1, when the vote is due to take place.

The Mossos are one of the symbols of Catalonia’s autonomy and for many Catalans the prosecutor’s decision may be reminiscent of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when the Mossos were abolished.

Several pro-independence groups have called for widespread protests on Sunday in central Barcelona.

“Let’s respond to the state with an unstoppable wave of democracy,” a Whatsapp message which was used to organize the demonstration read.

The Catalonian government opened a new website on Saturday with details of how and where to vote on Oct. 1, challenging several court rulings that had blocked previous sites and declared the referendum unconstitutional.

“You can’t stem the tide,” Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont said on Twitter in giving the link to the new website.

But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisted again that the vote should not go ahead.

“It will not happen because this would mean liquidating the law,” he said at the PP event in Palma de Mallorca.

Acting on court orders, the Spanish state police has already raided the regional government offices, arrested temporarily several senior Catalan officials accused of organizing the referendum and seized ballot papers, ballot boxes, voting lists and electoral material and literature.

The finance ministry in Madrid has also taken control of regional finances to make sure public money is not being spent to pay for the logistics the vote or to campaign.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 police officers coming from other Spanish regions have already arrived in Catalonia or are on their way. They will join 5,000 state police already based in the region and 17,000 local Mossos.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Catalan Pro-Secession Groups Urge Renewed Street Protests After Crackdown By Spain

September 21, 2017

MADRID — A pro-independence civic group in Catalonia is calling on residents to begin a long-term street protest against Spanish authorities’ surprise crackdown on the region’s plans to hold a secession referendum.

The Catalan National Assembly’s call came hours after Civil Guard police arrested at least 12 people, mostly Catalan government officials, suspected of coordinating the referendum.

The group, a driving force behind the secession movement, urged people to gather at noon Thursday outside the region’s justice tribunal and bring tents if needed.

Assembly spokesman Adria Alsina said they would stay until “all the prisoners are released.”

Wednesday’s arrests triggered demonstrations and some minor disturbances in Barcelona and other Catalan cities overnight.

Regional police had to protect Civil Guard agents as they left one raided building.

Spain says the referendum would be illegal.


BBC News

Catalonia referendum: Spain steps up raids to halt vote

    • 20 September 2017

Catalonia’s separatist government is defying a Constitutional Court order to halt the 1 October vote

Spanish police have detained 14 Catalan officials and raided regional government ministries involved in organising an independence vote declared illegal by Spain’s government.

Tensions were already high before Josep Maria Jové, number two in the Catalan vice-presidency, and others were held.

Thousands of Catalans took to the streets in protest and the region’s president complained of a power grab.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the state had been forced to act.

The region’s separatist government is defying an order by Spain’s Constitutional Court to suspend the 1 October referendum law passed by the Catalan parliament last month.

People demonstrate outside the Catalan Vice-President and Economy office as police officers holds a searching operation inside on September 20, 2017 in Barcelona
A sea of protesters filled the Gran Via and other streets as police searched the Catalan economy ministry. Getty Images

Wednesday’s operation targeting over 40 ministries and offices as well as three private companies was a dramatic intensification of Spain’s attempt to stop the vote taking place.

An estimated 10 million ballot papers were found in a warehouse outside Barcelona, reports said.

There were scattered protests outside a number of buildings, but the biggest was outside the Catalan economy ministry in the heart of Barcelona. Scuffles were reported as police tried to remove documents from the foreign affairs building.

In a separate move Spain’s finance minister, Cristóbal Montoro, announced the national government was now set to take control of the Catalan regional budget, so that the state would pay for essential public services, rather than transfer the money to Barcelona.

After an emergency cabinet meeting Catalan President Carles Puigdemont accused the Madrid government of “de facto” suspending the region’s autonomy and imposing a state of emergency.

Why is Spain cracking down?

Eleven days ahead of the planned vote on 1 October, the national government has made its biggest move yet to stop it happening.

Spain did not stop an earlier vote taking place in November 2014, but this time the Catalan leadership plans a declaration of independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote.

Police remove a protester outside Unipost office in Terrassa on 19 Sept
Scuffles broke out on Tuesday when demonstrators in Terrassa tried to stop a raid targeting voting material. Reuters

Mr Rajoy said the regional government had been warned that they were destroying Spain’s national sovereignty, “There’s no democratic state in the world that would accept what these people are planning,” he said. He urged the Catalan president to comply with the law and put his secessionist challenge into “reverse gear”.

Several ministries in Barcelona were raided on Wednesday, including the economy, foreign affairs, telecoms, social affairs and presidency buildings. Among those detained were officials from the economy ministry, run by Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, as well as figures from other departments.

Those held are suspected of misappropriating funds for the vote and misusing confidential data on taxpayers.

Police were searching for computer equipment and any documentation linked to the planned vote. The day before, they seized some 45,000 envelopes with the Catalan government’s logo from a private delivery company in Terrassa, north-west of Barcelona.

On Friday, the Spanish finance minister gave Oriol Junqueras a deadline to call off the vote or see funding for essential services in Catalonia taken over by Madrid. A letter was sent to Mr Junqueras late on Tuesday reminding him the deadline had passed.

A risky escalation

By James Badcock, BBC News, Madrid

The spate of raids and arrests in Barcelona is a clear escalation by the Spanish state as it tries to deactivate the planned referendum.

Protesters with 'democracy' flags chant outside the Catalan economy ministry
Chanting “We will vote”, protesters blocked the Gran Via in Barcelona outside the Catalan economy ministry. Getty Images

Previous raids have targeted sites suspected of holding electoral material. Arresting officials from an elected government risks further polarising Catalan society between those who want independence and those who do not.

Although the Catalan independence movement has so far been peaceful, raids on government premises carried out by a Spanish militarised police force, the Guardia Civil, create uncomfortable echoes of the Franco dictatorship.

Demonstrators are already taking to the streets to protect their “right to decide”. And there is a risk of clashes between pro-independence activists and police forces with orders to stop the vote.

How are Catalan leaders responding?

As the Catalan president condemned Spain’s “anti-democratic and totalitarian actions”, another Catalan leader called for peaceful resistance to protect the buildings as the regional government met in emergency session.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on 20 Sept
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said the Spanish leadership had crossed a red line. AFP photo

“The time has come – let’s resist peacefully; let’s come out and defend our institutions,” the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Jordi Sánchez, tweeted.

He did not have to wait long. Protesters gathered outside the economy ministry as the police operation took place, chanting “We will vote” and surrounding the Guardia Civil cars stationed outside.

The centre of Barcelona soon became a sea of Catalan flags and the city’s renowned football club threw its weight behind the protests, condemning any actthat threatened freedom of speech and self-determination.

The Catalan vice-president accused Spanish police of attacking the region’s institutions and therefore its citizens too. “We will not allow it,” he said.

In Madrid, Catalan separatist MP Gabriel Rufián told the prime minister in parliament he should take his “dirty hands” off Catalonia’s institutions, Efe news agency reported.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau warned that if Mr Rajoy “persists with this repressive strategy, he’ll find diverse, pro-Catalan voices more united than ever defending rights and freedom”.

Do Catalans want independence?

Some 7.5 million people live in Spain’s well-off north-eastern region and a majority are thought to be in favour of having a vote. However, one survey commissioned by the Catalan government in July suggested that 41% of voters backed independence while 49% were opposed.

Catalan nationalism has been stirred by Spain’s economic crisis. While Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, Catalans argue they pay more into the national budget than they get back. And a 2010 Constitutional Court ruling fuelled nationalist anger when it set limits on Catalan claims to nationhood.

In the non-binding 2014 vote, branded illegal by the Madrid government, just 2.2 million voters out of a potential 5.4 million turned out. Officials said 80% of them backed independence.