Cat­alo­nia bows to Span­ish rule

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS -

ARCELONA, Spain — Span­ish au­thor­i­ties moved ag­gres­sively Mon­day to quash Cat­alo­nia’s bid for in­de­pen­dence, as sep­a­ratist lead­ers ap­peared to re­treat just days af­ter declar­ing their re­gion a free na­tion.

With Cat­alo­nia’s ousted pres­i­dent flee­ing the coun­try, Spain’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial press­ing charges of re­bel­lion and sedi­tion, and lo­cal gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees bow­ing to di­rect rule by Madrid, the re­gion showed signs of ac­qui­es­cence, not au­ton­omy.

The stark turn­about raised questions about a lack of prepa­ra­tions by Cata­lan lead­ers af­ter the re­gional par­lia­ment voted to break from Madrid on Fri­day. Many or­di­nary Cata­lans who sup­port in­de­pen­dence said they were crest­fallen that the for­mer re­gional pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, did not push more force­fully against Span­ish au­thor­i­ties.

In­stead, Cata­lan politi­cians largely ap­pear to be ac­cept­ing a Madrid plan to hold new re­gional elections on Dec. 21.

As Span­ish au­thor­i­ties an­nounced the charges, they said the for­mer Cata­lan of­fi­cials had abused their power by stok­ing the se­ces­sion­ist cam­paign.

“With their de­ci­sions and ac­tions over these

Blast two years, they have pro­voked an in­sti­tu­tional cri­sis cul­mi­nat­ing with the uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, re­al­ized with to­tal dis­re­gard for our con­sti­tu­tion,” said Span­ish At­tor­ney Gen­eral José Manuel Maza.

With re­bel­lion car­ry­ing a max­i­mum 30-year prison sen­tence, Puigde­mont sur­faced Mon­day in Bel­gium, a coun­try where asy­lum claims are in the hands of Flem­ish na­tion­al­ist politi­cians who har­bor hopes of es­tab­lish­ing their own in­de­pen­dent na­tion. A Bel­gian lawyer who pre­vi­ously de­fended mem­bers of the Basque mil­i­tant ETA group, Paul Bekaert, told Span­ish news out­lets that Puigde­mont was in Bel­gium and had hired him as his lawyer. Cata­lan out­lets said Puigde­mont planned to speak pub­licly to­day.

The crim­i­nal charges werethe lat­est step by Span­ish of­fi­cials seek­ing to de­rail Cat­alo­nia’s drive for in­de­pen­dence, which was set in mo­tion ear­lier this month with a ref­er­en­dum in which vot­ers backed a break from Spain.

In a stun­ning cas­cade of events last week, Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional Par­lia­ment for­mally de­clared in­de­pen­dence, and Span­ish au­thor­i­ties coun­tered by strip­ping Cata­lan lead­ers of their pow­ers.

The of­fi­cials charged were not im­me­di­ately ar­rested on Mon­day. They were asked to present them­selves at a Madrid court in the com­ing days. It was un­clear whether they would be able to take part in the De­cem­ber elections.

Puigde­mont’s Cata­lan lawyer said Mon­day that the charges were “in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The charge of re­bel­lion “has the same grav­ity as ter­ror­ism,” Jaume Alonso-Cuevil­las told RAC1 ra­dio. The lawyer said that such a crime “re­quires vi­o­lence as an es­sen­tial el­e­ment, and there wasn’t any.”

De­spite the le­gal ef­forts against them Mon­day, some de­fi­ant of­fi­cials in Cat­alo­nia showed up for work. At least one min­is­ter of the nowousted re­gional gov­ern­ment was al­lowed briefly to en­ter his of­fices.

“Con­tin­u­ing with planned agenda,” tweeted Josep Rull, who un­til Fri­day was the Cata­lan min­is­ter of land and sus­tain­abil­ity. He pub­lished a pho­to­graph of him­self at his com­puter in his of­fice, but left about an hour later without ap­pear­ing to have tried to ex­er­cise his con­tested power.

EMILIO MORENATTI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont is in Bel­gium, where asy­lum claims are in the hands of Flem­ish na­tion­al­ist politi­cians who hope to form an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

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