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

The Washington Post reports: 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. [Continue reading…]

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Catalan president stops short of declaring independence, calls for further dialogue with Spain

The Washington Post reports: In a long-awaited speech, Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont affirmed on Tuesday the right of Catalonia to be an independent country. But he notably stopped short of declaring the region an independent polity, calling for further dialogue with the Spanish government.

By suspending the secession process, Puigdemont signaled an overture to critics and observers in Spain and across the European Union who feared the rise of separatism in the increasingly embattled 28-state bloc. He said that Catalonia’s conflict with Spain could be resolved in a rational way and suggested exploring international mediation as a possible solution.

Earlier Tuesday, the Spanish government rejected any offer of negotiation.

Throughout a long and often bitter process, Madrid fiercely rejected the prospect of Catalan independence, deploying police to interrupt the vote in violent clashes and threatening to throw Puigdemont in jail if he went any further. Spain’s constitutional court had ruled Catalonia’s referendum illegal, and although a majority of those who voted supported leaving Spain, fewer than 50 percent of eligible Catalan residents ultimately cast ballots. [Continue reading…]

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Catalonia: Hundreds of thousands join anti-independence rally in Barcelona

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the Catalan government’s decision to push for independence, as Spain’s prime minister warned that he was prepared to suspend the region’s autonomy to stop it splitting from the rest of the country.

Sunday’s rally – organised by Societat Civil Catalana, the region’s main pro-unity organisation – comes a week after the independence referendum that has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in four decades.

The march, whose slogan is “Let’s recover our common sense”, was intended to call for a new phase of dialogue with the rest of Spain and featured such luminaries as the Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Josep Borrell, former president of the European parliament.

Societat Civil Catalana said more than 1 million people had taken part, but Barcelona police put the turnout at 350,000.

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is under growing pressure to stop short of declaring independence. The political uncertainty has already led some businesses – including Spain’s third-largest bank – to move their bases from Catalonia. [Continue reading…]

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‘We don’t know how good we have it here’: Many Catalans don’t want a break with Spain

The Washington Post reports: The shocking images of Spanish riot police using rubber batons to beat voters away from the ballot box were the most powerful impressions of the chaotic vote in the wannabe breakaway republic of Catalonia.

But just out of view of the camera lenses was the majority of Spanish citizens in this stylish, peaceful and prosperous region in the heart of Europe — those who did not vote in the disputed referendum for an independent Catalonia.

At least 6 in 10 registered voters stayed home, suggesting deep division and opposition to the split with Spain sought by the separatists.

Who are they? What do they want?

Many here are now calling themselves “the silent majority.”

They range from old-school socialists to old-family capitalists, who say the Catalan independence referendum was either a bad idea or just done so badly. [Continue reading…]

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Pro-unity Catalans take to the streets to condemn ‘selfish revolution’

The Observer reports: They call themselves the silenced; the Catalans who are opposed to independence but have been unable – and often afraid – to make their voice heard above the roaring passion of the secessionists.

Huge numbers are expected to protest on Sunday in Barcelona against the perceived hijacking of the political process by an independence movement that has so far never won the support of more than 48% of the population.

The march has been organised by Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), the main channel for anti-independence sentiment in what has suddenly become one of the most troubled regions in Europe. The march will call for a new phase of dialogue with the rest of Spain and will be attended by such luminaries as the Nobel-winning Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Josep Borrell, former president of the European parliament.

There is acute uncertainty over where the crisis will lead, after Spain’s constitutional court banned the Catalan parliament from sitting tomorrow to prevent it declaring independence. While some members of parliament said the sitting would go ahead as planned, eyes are now focused on a statement that Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, intends to make on Tuesday.

Puigdemont is under pressure to pull back from the brink by not declaring independence. The Barcelona Bar Association (ICAB) has published an open letter saying: “The Independent Commission for Mediation, Dialogue and Conciliation has told the president that it is essential to hold back on political decisions that will increase the tension between the state and Catalan governments.”

Saturday saw marches and demonstrations all over Spain, with tens of thousands gathering in Madrid’s Plaza Colón in favour of a united Spain. In dozens of towns and cities, including Barcelona, people joined the “white demonstrations” demanding dialogue. Dressed in white and without any flags, protesters marched under the single slogan in Spanish and Catalan: Hablemos/Parlem – let’s talk. [Continue reading…]

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As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over

Natalie Nougayrède writes: History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. [Continue reading…]

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Spain suspends Catalan parliament session as independence row escalates

The Guardian reports: The Spanish prime minister has called for the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to drop plans for a unilateral declaration of independence to avoid “greater harm”.

Speaking a day after Puigdemont said he would press ahead with plans to make a declaration in the next week, Mariano Rajoy warned that the situation could escalate further if the Catalan government carried on.

“Is there a solution? Yes, there is,” Rajoy told the Spanish news agency Efe. “And the best one would be a return to legality and the swiftest possible confirmation that there won’t be a unilateral independence declaration, because that way still greater harm could be avoided.” [Continue reading…]

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Catalonia moves to declare independence from Spain on Monday

Reuters reports: Catalonia will move on Monday to declare independence from Spain following its banned referendum as the European Union nation nears a rupture that threatens the foundations of its young democracy.

Mireia Boya, a Catalan lawmaker from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, said on Twitter that a declaration of independence would follow a parliamentary session on Monday to evaluate the results of the Oct. 1 vote to break away.

“We know that there may be disbarments, arrests … But we are prepared, and in no case will it be stopped,” she said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said earlier he would ask the region’s parliament to declare independence following the poll, which Spain’s government and constitutional court say was illegal and in which only a minority of Catalans voted. [Continue reading…]

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Catalonia responds to police violence: ‘people are angry, very angry’

The Guardian reports: Like much of Catalonia, the Hotel Vila in Calella was shuttered on Tuesday morning, its rooms empty, its doors locked and a sign reading Hotel Tancat (hotel closed) stuck to a window.

But on Sunday night, hours after the Spanish police’s attempts to halt the Catalan independence referendum exploded into violence, the hotel became another frontline in the skirmishes between locals and Spanish police; a further manifestation of the furious disbelief that has triggered strikes across the region and which brought thousands of people on to the streets of Barcelona and Girona on Tuesday to protest against an unaccustomed brutality.

Calella, a seaside resort town 36 miles north-east of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, has long served as a billet for Spanish police officers who stay there when they are deployed to keep order at large-scale events in the city.

However, the Guardia Civil officers lodged in the Hotel Vila over the weekend soon learned that they were no longer welcome.

At around 10.30 on Sunday night, incensed by the scenes of police brutality in nearby Sant Cebrià de Vallalta and around many parts of Catalonia, a group of local people headed to the hotel chanting: “Out occupation forces!” A video of the protest also shows some people shouting “fascists!” and calling the officers sons of bitches.

A group of officers – some carrying batons – emerged and, despite the intervention of members of the Catalan police force, allegedly attacked the protesters. According to the town’s mayor, 14 people were injured, of whom four were taken to hospital.

“We’ve had Guardia Civil and national police staying here for years before big football matches and nothing’s ever happened,” said one local business owner, who did not wish to be named. “There had never been problems until now. All the bars around here used to be full of them. But now people here are scared.”

By Monday night, the Guardia Civil had left Calella, leading Ramón Cosio, a spokesman for Spain’s main police union, to complain that officers were “fleeing from hotel to hotel; they are like rats who have to hide”.

The Unión de Guardias Civiles went further, saying the “harassment” of its officers in Catalonia was “more like Nazi Germany than what you see in any other country where democracy reigns and rights are guaranteed”.

With Madrid under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades, crowds gathered in Barcelona on Tuesday, chanting “independence”, repeating the cries of “occupying force” and urging Spanish police to leave the region. [Continue reading…]

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The EU has tied its own hands. It cannot intervene in Catalonia

Natalie Nougayrède writes: The Catalan crisis presents the EU with an unprecedented conundrum. Spain joined the European project in 1986, and its democratic transition has for decades been hailed as a model. Tensions have not run this high in the country since the 1981 failed military coup, when colonel Antonio Tejero seized the parliament in Madrid at gunpoint. The then king, young Juan Carlos, prevented the nation from entering another dark age by delivering a speech on TV uncompromisingly defending the constitution and identifying the monarchy with the country’s emerging democratic majority.

As Catalonia’s nationalist leadership hurtles towards what may be, in the coming days, a unilateral declaration of independence, the current king, Felipe, also took to the television screens. Can he rally consensus within Spain to prevent a full-on confrontation?

The best option, one would think, would be for the EU to step in. But calls for it to mediate between Madrid and Barcelona have been left unanswered. Not only that, the EU stands accused of complacency in the face of what some Catalan activists describe as state “repression” that carries echoes of the Franco era. Is any of this fair? [Continue reading…]

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Ripples from Catalan referendum could extend beyond Spain

Simon Tisdall writes: The Spanish government’s attempted suppression of Catalonia’s independence referendum by brute force has raised urgent questions for fellow EU members about Spain’s adherence to democratic norms, 42 years after the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, spoke for many in Europe when he tweeted: “Violence can never be the answer!”

Madrid’s pugnacious stance, while widely condemned as a gross and shameful over-reaction, has nevertheless sent a problematic message to would-be secessionists everywhere. It is that peaceful campaigns in line with the UN charter’s universal right to self-determination, campaigns that eschew violence and rely on conventional political means, are ultimately doomed to fail. In other words, violence is the only answer. Sorry, Charles.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, did everything he could to derail a referendum that the courts had deemed illegal, but his pleas and threats were not persuasive. That is democracy. Rajoy’s subsequent choice to employ physical force to impose his will on civilians exercising a basic democratic right carried a chill echo of Spain’s past and a dire warning for the future. That is dictatorship.

Surely no one believes the cause of Catalan independence will fade away after Sunday’s bloody confrontations that left hundreds injured. Rajoy’s actions may have ensured, on the contrary, that the campaign enters a new, more radical phase, potentially giving rise to ongoing clashes, reciprocal violence, and copycat protests elsewhere, for example among the left-behind population of economically deprived Galicia. [Continue reading…]

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Hundreds injured as riot police storm Catalan referendum polling stations

The Guardian reports: The Spanish government has defended its response to the Catalan independence referendum after more than 700 people were hurt when Spanish riot police stormed polling stations and seized ballot papers in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

Although many Catalans managed to cast their ballots in the poll, which the Spanish authorities have declared illegal, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court.

The large Ramon Llull school in central Barcelona was the scene of a sustained operation, with witnesses describing police using axes to smash the doors, charging the crowds and firing rubber bullets. [Continue reading…]

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Catalans defy Spain and vote on independence, clashing with police

The New York Times reports: Defying the Spanish authorities, tens of thousands of Catalans turned out to vote on Sunday in a banned independence referendum, clashing with police officers sent from outside the region to shut down polling stations and confiscate ballots.

The police in some places used rubber bullets and truncheons to disperse voters, many of whom had spent the night inside polling stations to ensure that they would remain open.

The police crackdown left 38 people wounded — nine of whom were hospitalized — by early afternoon, according to the Catalan emergency services. Madrid-based newspapers reported that 11 police officers had also suffered injuries.

Even as Spanish security forces intensified the clampdown, the Catalan authorities maintained that voting was proceeding in almost three-quarters of polling stations. [Continue reading…]

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In Barcelona, a heartening rejection of Islamophobia

The Washington Post reports: On Sunday, thousands of local Muslims marched down La Rambla, the scenic, tree-lined boulevard where the first of two coordinated attacks took place. Young and old, men and women, many of whom were veiled, the demonstrators chanted in unison: “I am Muslim! Not a terrorist!” Non-Muslims lined the sidewalks, clapping and crying. Some stepped forward to hug demonstrators as they passed.

At a Sunday news conference on the investigation, Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional president, grew most animated when he spoke in defense of the local Moroccan population. “The Moroccan people are integrated in Catalonia, and they have made important contributions to the community,” he said.

Some, especially in rural Catalonia, might have said otherwise. Home to the largest percentage of Spain’s Muslim population — about 25 percent — the region is also the locus of Islamist militant activity in the country. Roughly a quarter of those arrested on suspicion of radicalized tendencies between 2013 and 2016 were arrested in Barcelona and its environs, according to data released by the Real Instituto Elcano, a Madrid-based think tank.

Carola García-Calvo, a senior terrorism analyst at Elcano, said that part of the reason was that Barcelona has long been a receiving center for immigrants and one of the few places in Spain where the vulnerable group of second-generation immigrant youths has matured in a concentrated mass.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the Las Ramblas attack, a small group of demonstrators from the far-right Falange movement — named for a fascist group active in 1930s Spain — protested what they called the “Islamicization of Europe.”

But that was far from a widespread sentiment. Thousands of counterprotesters ultimately turned out in response, drowning out the handful of rightists and forcing them to disband. [Continue reading…]

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How 12 young men from a small town secretly plotted the deadliest terrorist attack in Spain in more than a decade

The Washington Post reports: The Spanish interior minister boasted Saturday that the terrorist cell that had carried out attacks in Barcelona and a nearby seaside village has been “completely dismantled.” But in the mountain town where the conspiracy was born, people wanted to know how it all had started.

At the center of the mystery here: How did a dozen young men from a small town — some friends since childhood — come together to plot in secret and carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Spain in more than a decade, considering some were barely old enough to drive and most still lived with their parents.

As many as eight of 12 young men named as suspects in the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils are first- and second-generation Moroccan immigrants from the picturesque town of Ripoll, perched high in the forests at the edge of the Pyrenees, a two-hour drive on the highway from Barcelona.

Parents of the young men here told The Washington Post they fear their sons were radicalized by a visiting cleric who spent the last months praying, preaching — and possibly brainwashing gullible youngsters who spoke better Spanish than Arabic. [Continue reading…]

 

Christopher Dickey writes: According to the JTIC [Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre], Spanish police have arrested at least 20 suspects connected to the Islamic State. “Notably, 11 of the suspects detained in 2017 have been arrested in Catalonia, where the latest attack occurred,” the JTIC reports. “Of 38 counter-terrorism operations conducted in 2015 and 2016, 10 operations leading to the arrests of 24 suspected Islamist militants were conducted in Catalonia. Since the start of 2015, 43.2 percent of arrests targeting Islamist militants recorded by JTIC have taken place in Catalonia, highlighting it as a hub of Islamist activity in Spain.”

Yet, for all that, “the two attacks and the relatively large geographic dispersal between Barcelona and Cambrils, the involvement of a larger number of people [than in other attacks in Europe in 2016 and 2017] and the potential discovery of a site to prepare powerful explosives in Alcanar suggest a much higher level of coordination than has been typically present in previous attacks.”
Spain has been on its next-highest level of alert since 2015, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks early that year.

But the autonomous Catalan government has been pressing forward with plans for a highly contentious referendum on complete independence scheduled for October 1, and its secessionist sentiment, though by no means universal, may have had particular relevance to these attacks.

Hugo Micheron, a researcher who has interviewed scores of jihadis in French prisons and elsewhere, notes that those operating in Europe often see elections as key moments for their operations. “ISIS wants to destabilize the democratic process,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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When terror came to Barcelona

Miguel-Anxo Murado writes: With the blood of tourists shed in the streets of Barcelona, the Spanish and Catalan police forces are working together to tackle the common threat.

Perhaps inevitably, the bitter differences will re-emerge as the shock recedes. And yet, between now and then, the horror has opened a window through which we are able to catch a glimpse of our common humanity, of how frail it is, of how thin is the line that divides civility from barbarism.

Cityscapes are so embedded in the life of our nations that any major event that happens in them has inadvertent historical resonance and additional meaning. In Stockholm, the terrorist started his car in the street where Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister who embodied an ideal of social cohesion, was assassinated many years before. In London, the attacker knifed his way right up to the gates of Parliament, the visible representation of democracy’s long history. And it was in Las Ramblas of Barcelona, standing guard on a rooftop as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War, that the British writer George Orwell was struck by a realization that would ultimately lead him to write “1984,” his enduring denunciation of totalitarianism and the politics of fear.

On Thursday, the terrorists began killing people precisely on the spot of Orwell’s epiphany. By the time the vehicle had ran its course, it had left a half-mile trail of pain. Already, yesterday, that scar was covered with a tribute of flowers. It occurred to me that many of them may have come from the same kiosks hit by the van.

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while,” wrote Orwell, “even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Terror’ struck Barcelona, according to Trump. Charlottesville? ‘Call it whatever you want.’

Callum Borchers writes: Within hours of a vehicular attack in Barcelona that killed at least 13 and injured dozens of others on Thursday, President Trump called it “terror.”


Yet at a news conference three days after a similar episode in Charlottesville, where an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19, the president would not definitely assign the same label.

“Was this terrorism?” a journalist asked on Tuesday.

“Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country,” Trump replied, “and that is — you can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want.” [Continue reading…]

However each attack gets labelled, the more important question is how they are related since it’s hard to dismiss the temporal sequence as purely coincidental.

The reality is that an attack of this kind requires very little planning and thus the first attack could indeed have triggered the second. Moreover, the attacker in Barcelona would surely have been fully aware of the attack in Charlottesville and thus seen global media attention as ripe for the picking through an escalation of violence.

Was the latest attack conceived as a way of mocking (and goading) American Islamophobic terrorists — as if to say, your brutality is no match of ours?

Was it intended to highlight Trump’s hypocrisy in his responses to violent attacks?

What seems least likely is the possibility that Charlottesville was nowhere within the considerations of the perpetrator(s) of today’s deadly attack in Barcelona.

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Spain drops plan to impose veto if Scotland tries to join EU

The Guardian reports: Spain has said it would not veto an attempt by an independent Scotland to join the EU, in a boost to Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign for a second independence referendum and the clearest sign yet that Brexit has softened Madrid’s longstanding opposition.

Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign minister, made it clear that the government would not block an independent Scotland’s EU hopes, although he stressed that Madrid would not welcome the disintegration of the UK.

He also said Edinburgh would have to apply for membership, a process fraught with uncertainty that is likely to take several years. But asked directly whether Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, Dastis said: “No, we wouldn’t.”

Madrid is keen not to fuel Catalonia’s desire for independence. “We don’t want it [Scottish independence] to happen,” he said. “But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it. We don’t encourage the breakup of any member states, because we think the future goes in a different direction.”

The change in tone could prove a significant boon to Scotland’s first minister, who has repeatedly demanded the right from Westminster to hold a second independence referendum before Brexit. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU during the referendum last year, but it has been believed Spain would block it from rejoining if independent from the UK. [Continue reading…]

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Anger as Spain prepares to let Russian warships refuel on way back to Aleppo bombing

The Guardian reports: Spain is facing criticism for reportedly preparing to allow the refuelling of Russian warships en route to bolstering the bombing campaign against the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

Warships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov are expected to take on fuel and supplies at the Spanish port of Ceuta after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.

Spanish media reported that two Spanish vessels, the frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón and logistical ship Cantabria, were shadowing the warships as they passed through international waters, and that the Admiral Kuznetsov, along with other Russian vessels and submarines, would dock at Ceuta to restock after 10 days at sea. [Continue reading…]

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