Spain’s show of unity ends in fatal jet crash
MADRID: Spain’s national day was marred by the death of a fighter pilot in a crash returning from a military parade meant as a show of unity by opponents of Catalonian independence, the day after the central government gave the region’s separatist leader until next week to clarify whether he intends to secede.
The Eurofighter, one of four jets that conducted a fly-pass in Madrid, crashed in Llanos de Albacete, a county about 300km southeast of the Spanish capital.
The country is in the midst of its worst political crisis in a generation after separatists in the wealthy northeastern region voted in a banned referendum on October 1 to split from Spain.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe attended the parade in central Madrid. Armed forces marched down Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana boulevard to mark the day Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492, while a pro-unity rally by members of the far right erupted into a brawl in the Catalan capital Barcelona.
Mr Rajoy has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession, and threatened on Wednesday to take control of the region if Barcelona insisted on breaking away.
The warning came after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announced on Tuesday that he had accepted the mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state” and had signed an independence declaration — but he asked regional MPs to suspend it to allow for dialogue with Madrid.
The legality of the declaration was unclear.
Following an emergency cabinet meeting, Mr Rajoy told MPs Mr Puigdemont had until Monday to decide whether he planned to push ahead with secession, and until next Thursday to reconsider, otherwise Madrid would suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy.
The deadline set the clock ticking on Spain’s most serious political emergency since its return to democracy four decades ago.
World leaders are watching closely as uncertainty about the fate of the region of 7.5 million people has damaged business confidence. Several listed firms already have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.
The region itself is deeply divided on the issue, with polls suggesting Catalans are split evenly on whether to go it alone.
Although Mr Puigdemont has insisted the October 1 referendum gave him a mandate for independence and has said he still wants dialogue with Madrid, Mr Rajoy has refused to negotiate on anything until the separatists abandon their independence drive.
He has also rejected calls for mediation. “There is no mediation possible between democratic law and disobedience, illegality,” he told parliament. Mr Rajoy’s triggering on Wednesday of constitutional article 155, which allows Madrid to impose control over its devolved regions, is an unprecedented move that some fear could lead to unrest.
Although separatist leaders say 90 per cent of voters opted to split from Spain in the unofficial referendum, fewer than half of the region’s eligible voters turned out.
The Catalonian separatist drive has raised concerns about stability in an EU still coming to terms with Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc, and Brussels has urged “full respect of the Spanish constitutional order”.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said any unilateral independence move would be “irresponsible”, while France said it would not recognise Catalonia’s “illegal” bid for statehood.
Catalonia, which accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, enjoys significant independence in matters such as education and healthcare.
But Spain’s economic strains during the global financial crisis, coupled with resentment that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the secessionist cause from the fringes of Catalan politics to centre stage.
Mr Puigdemont insisted on Wednesday that “the majority of Catalan people want Catalonia as an independent state” but Mr Rajoy dismissed Mr Puigdemont’s push as “a fairytale”.
“It is not peaceful, it is not free, it will not be recognised by Europe and now everyone knows it will have costs,” he told MPs.
Mariano Rajoy yesterday