Spain PM threat­ens to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia au­ton­omy amid cri­sis

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Pa­trick Ga­ley and Daniel Bosque

SPAIN threat­ened yes­ter­day to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy if it fol­lows through on its threat to break away as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy has vowed to do ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent Cata­lan se­ces­sion fol­low­ing a banned ref­er­en­dum in the re­gion, which re­mains deeply di­vided over in­de­pen­dence.

He held an emer­gency cab­i­net meet­ing after Cat­alo­nia’s Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont an­nounced on Tues­day that he had ac­cepted the man­date for “Cat­alo­nia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state”.

Ra­joy asked the Cata­lan leader to clar­ify whether he had ac­tu­ally de­clared in­de­pen­dence, which could trig­ger moves by Madrid to sus­pend the re­gion’s semi­au­tonomous sta­tus.

The Cata­lan cri­sis is Spain’s most se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal emer­gency since its re­turn to democ­racy four decades ago.

World lead­ers are watch­ing closely and un­cer­tainty over the fate of the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has dam­aged busi­ness con­fi­dence.

Puigde­mont said the ref­er­en­dum had given him a man­date for in­de­pen­dence but im­me­di­ately asked regional law­mak­ers to sus­pend the dec­la­ra­tion to al­low for ne­go­ti­a­tions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“The cab­i­net agreed this morn­ing to for­mally ask the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment to con­firm whether it de­clared in­de­pen­dence,” he said in a tele­vised ad­dress after cab­i­net talks.

“The an­swer from the Cata­lan pres­i­dent will de­ter­mine fu­ture events, in the next few days,” Ra­joy said.

“The gov­ern­ment wants to of­fer cer­tainty to Spa­niards, es­pe­cially Cata­lans. It wants to avoid the con­fu­sion that has been gen­er­ated by Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties.”

Ra­joy could choose to trig­ger con­sti­tu­tion article 155, which al­lows Madrid to im­pose con­trol over its de­volved re­gions – a move many fear could lead to un­rest.

The leader of the op­po­si­tion So­cial­ist Party, Pe­dro Sanchez, said, mean­while, that his side and the gov­ern­ment had agreed to study a pos­si­ble con­sti­tu­tional re­form” to try to end the cri­sis. The de­bate would fo­cus on “how Cat­alo­nia re­mains in Spain, and not how it leaves”, Sanchez told re­porters.

‘De­struc­tive force’

While sep­a­ratist lead­ers say 90 per­cent of vot­ers opted to split from Spain in the Oc­to­ber plebiscite, less than half of the re­gion’s el­i­gi­ble vot­ers ac­tu­ally turned out.

The drive to break Cat­alo­nia away from Spain has raised con­cern for sta­bil­ity in a Euro­pean Union still com­ing to terms with Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

The EU yes­ter­day urged “full re­spect of the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tional or­der”, with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Vice Pres­i­dent Valdis Dom­brovskis say­ing that the bloc was fol­low­ing de­vel­op­ments “closely”.

Crowds of thou­sands gath­ered out­side the par­lia­ment in Barcelona on Tues­day ahead of Puigde­mont’s speech, wav­ing Cata­lan flags and ban­ners and scream­ing “democ­racy” in the hope of wit­ness­ing his­tory in the mak­ing.

But Spain’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment rounded on Puigde­mont fol­low­ing his dec­la­ra­tion, and sup­port among sep­a­ratists in Cat­alo­nia was mixed.

Barcelona res­i­dent Maria Rosa Ber­tran said she was against a de­layed se­ces­sion, which meant “suf­fer­ing a longer agony. In­de­ci­sion and un­cer­tainty is the worst thing that can hap­pen to us,” she said.

The gov­ern­ment stuck to its stance that it would not ac­cept me­di­a­tion or any talks un­til Cata­lan lead­ers drop their in­de­pen­dence bid.

“Nei­ther Mr Puigde­mont, nor any­one, can ex­pect to im­pose me­di­a­tion with­out re­turn­ing to le­gal­ity or democ­racy,” Deputy Prime Min­is­ter So­raya Saenz de San­ta­maria said on Tues­day.

She said Puigde­mont was “a per­son who doesn’t know where he is, where he’s going or with whom he wants to go”.

Un­known con­se­quences

Fol­low­ing his dec­la­ra­tion to par­lia­ment, Puigde­mont and his al­lies signed an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion out­side the cham­ber, but its le­gal va­lid­ity was un­clear.

Regional gov­ern­ment spokesman Jordi Tu­rull said the dec­la­ra­tion was “a sym­bolic act”, adding that any of­fi­cial de­ci­sion would need to be de­cided by the Cata­lan par­lia­ment.

Madrid has con­sis­tently said in­de­pen­dence is not up for dis­cus­sion.

“I did not ex­pect in­de­pen­dence to be de­clared to­day be­cause of all the pro­cesses that the gov­ern­ment of Spain has be­gun, both with po­lice ac­tions and with threats,” Marc Cazes, a stu­dent in Barcelona, said on Tues­day.

Po­lice vi­o­lence against vot­ers dur­ing the ref­er­enudm vote sparked in­ter­na­tional con­cern.

De­mands for in­de­pen­dence in Cat­alo­nia, one of Spain’s 17 semi­au­tonomous re­gions 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.

JORGE GUER­RERO/AFP

Sup­port­ers of in­de­pen­dence for Cat­alo­nia lis­ten to Cata­lan Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont’s speech broad­cast on a tele­vi­sion screen at the Arc de Tri­omf in Barcelona on Tues­day.

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