Cat­alo­nia over­shad­ows Spain

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Pa­trick Ga­ley, Daniel Silva and Mar­i­anne Bar­ri­aux

SPAIN marked its na­tional day yes­ter­day with a show of unity in the face of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence ef­forts, a day af­ter the cen­tral govern­ment gave the re­gion’s sep­a­ratist leader a dead­line to aban­don his se­ces­sion bid.

The coun­try is suf­fer­ing 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.

To mark the na­tional hol­i­day, Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy and King Felipe VI at­tended a tra­di­tional mil­i­tary pa­rade in cen­tral Madrid. Armed forces marched along Madrid’s Paseo de la Castel­lana boule­vard to com­mem­o­rate the day that Christo­pher Colum­bus first ar­rived in the Amer­i­cas in 1492.

Sep­a­rate pro-unity ral­lies, in­clud­ing one by mem­bers of a far-right move­ment, got un­der way in the Cata­lan cap­i­tal Barcelona.

Spanish unity rally

In Madrid, cheer­ing crowds lined the streets, waving red and yel­low Spanish flags and some cry­ing “Viva Es­pana!” as air force jets and he­li­copters swooped over­head.

Javier Corchuelo, a 28-year-old welder, came with his friends from a town south­west of the cap­i­tal to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle.

“With all that is hap­pen­ing I thought it was im­por­tant to be here,” he said. “We have to show that we sup­port Spain.”

Ra­joy has vowed to do ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent Cata­lan se­ces­sion and his govern­ment said Wed­nes­day that it would take con­trol of the re­gion if it tried to break away.

The warn­ing came af­ter Cat­alo­nia’s Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont an­nounced Tues­day that he had ac­cepted the man­date for “Cat­alo­nia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state”. He signed an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion but asked re­gional law­mak­ers to sus­pend it to al­low for di­a­logue with Madrid.

The le­gal va­lid­ity of the dec­la­ra­tion was un­clear.

Ra­joy told law­mak­ers that Puigde­mont had un­til next Mon­day to de­cide if he planned to push ahead with se­ces­sion and then un­til next Thurs­day to re­con­sider, oth­er­wise Madrid would trig­ger con­sti­tu­tional steps that could 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.

‘Dis­obe­di­ence, il­le­gal­ity’

World lead­ers are watch­ing closely and un­cer­tainty over the fate of the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has dam­aged busi­ness con­fi­dence, with sev­eral listed firms al­ready mov­ing their le­gal head­quar­ters out of Cat­alo­nia.

The re­gion it­self is deeply di­vided on the is­sue, with polls sug­gest­ing Cata­lans are roughly evenly split.

While Puigde­mont in­sists the Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum gave him a man­date for in­de­pen­dence and has said he still wants di­a­logue with Madrid, Ra­joy has re­jected calls for me­di­a­tion and re­fuses to ne­go­ti­ate un­til the sep­a­ratists aban­don their in­de­pen­dence drive.

“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 law­mak­ers.

Ra­joy’s an­nounce­ment of the dead­line was a pre­lim­i­nary step to­wards in­vok­ing ar­ti­cle 155 of the Spanish Con­sti­tu­tion, which al­lows Madrid to im­pose con­trol over its de­volved re­gions – an un­prece­dented move that some fear could lead to un­rest.

“We ask for di­a­logue and they an­swer by putting ar­ti­cle 155 on the ta­ble. Un­der­stood,” Puigde­mont tweeted on late Wed­nes­day.

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

Sev­eral ral­lies were called yes­ter­day in Barcelona, in­clud­ing one by far-right ac­tivists. Around 150 gath­ered to march against se­ces­sion from Barcelona’s Plaza de Es­pana, flanked by Cata­lan po­lice.

“There has been a coup d’etat,” said a man who gave his name as Ed­uardo.

He was car­ry­ing the flag of the Falange, a Spanish far-right na­tion­al­ist move­ment founded in the 1930s.

“The Spanish have to re­act to de­fend the na­tion,” he said.

Marchers chanted: “Puigde­mont, go to jail”.

Puigde­mont in­sisted on Wed­nes­day that “the ma­jor­ity of Cata­lan peo­ple want Cat­alo­nia as an in­de­pen­dent state”. Ra­joy dis­missed his plan as “a fairy­tale”.


Pro­test­ers wave Spanish and Cata­lan flags dur­ing a demon­stra­tion called by Cata­lan Civil So­ci­ety un­der the motto ‘Cat­alo­nia yes, Spain too’ in Barcelona yes­ter­day.

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