Cata­lan leader con­sid­ers a se­ces­sion-free so­lu­tion

The Australian - - WORLD - BRUS­SELS:

The ousted leader of Cat­alo­nia is pre­pared to con­sider a so­lu­tion to Spain’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that does not in­volve in­de­pen­dence.

Car­les Puigde­mont, who has fled to Bel­gium, was asked yes­ter­day if an agree­ment with Madrid could be reached that did not in­volve the re­gion split­ting from Spain.

“I’m ready, and have al­ways been ready, to ac­cept the re­al­ity of an­other re­la­tion­ship with Spain. It is still pos­si­ble,” he told Bel­gium’s Le Soir news­pa­per.

“I have, be­ing pro-in­de­pen­dence all my life, worked for 30 years to have an­other way of Cat­alo­nia be­ing an­chored to Spain.”

How­ever, the sacked leader gave no hint of how such an agree­ment could work.

Mr Puigde­mont, who had pre­vi­ously in­sisted that in­de­pen- dence for Cat­alo­nia should form the basis of any po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions with Madrid, will ap­pear in court in Bel­gium on Fri­day to face an ex­tra­di­tion hear­ing af­ter a Span­ish judge is­sued an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant.

The for­mer leader and four for­mer min­is­ters, who fled to Bel­gium be­cause they said they could not ex­pect a fair trial in Spain, are wanted for ques­tion­ing for re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment of pub­lic funds con­nected with the in­de­pen­dence push in Cat­alo­nia. Spain was plunged into its worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since a failed mil­i­tary coup in 1981 when Mr Puigde­mont’s sep­a­ratist govern­ment de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Spain af­ter a se­ces­sion ref­er­en­dum in the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion on Oc­to­ber 1.

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy re­sponded by sack­ing the Cata­lan govern­ment, im- pos­ing di­rect rule from Madrid and call­ing re­gional elec­tions for De­cem­ber 21.

Mr Ra­joy said he had tried to reach a com­pro­mise with Mr Puigde­mont but the Cata­lan leader’s in­sis­tence on press­ing ahead with the ref­er­en­dum that Madrid de­clared to be il­le­gal made talks im­pos­si­ble.

“Many blame me for not seek­ing po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions. But I’ve been in pol­i­tics for a long time and ... there was no al­ter­na­tive,” Mr Ra­joy told the Ger­man news­pa­per Han­dels­blatt. “The govern­ment of Cat­alo­nia had only one goal — the ref­er­en­dum.”

The cri­sis has caused deep dis­tress in the EU as it comes to terms with Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

It has also sent busi­ness con­fi­dence plung­ing in Cat­alo­nia — home to 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple and ac­count­ing for a fifth of Spain’s GDP — with more than 2400 firms re-reg­is­ter­ing their head­quar­ters out­side the re­gion.

Asked about Mr Puigde­mont’s com­ments, Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Al­fonso Dastis said: “To­day the al­ter­na­tive to in­de­pen­dence passes through the De­cem­ber 21 elec­tions.”

Speak­ing in Brus­sels on the side­lines of a meet­ing of EU for­eign and de­fence min­is­ters, he added: “What Mr Puigde­mont has to do is run for elec­tion and see what sup­port he has.”

Amid fur­ther signs of splits in the pro-in­de­pen­dence move­ment, the Repub­li­can Left of Cat­alo­nia party, which is ex­pected to win the largest share of votes in next month’s elec­tion, ad­mit­ted Cat­alo­nia was not ready for se­ces­sion.

Mr Puigde­mont in­tends to be a can­di­date for the re­gional elec­tion from out­side Spain, but has failed to con­vince other se­ces­sion­ist par­ties to form a united coali­tion, as hap­pened in 2015, when a group ran un­der the To­gether for Yes slo­gan, se­cur­ing a slim ma­jor­ity.

AFP

Car­les Puigde­mont dur­ing a re­cent event in Brus­sels

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