Calm on streets as ousted Cata­lan leader flees to Bel­gium

Di­rect rule from Madrid takes hold smoothly as Cata­lans ig­nore calls for civil dis­obe­di­ence

Irish Independent - - News - James Bad­cock and James Crisp

CAR­LES Puigde­mont, the ousted pres­i­dent of Cat­alo­nia who de­fied the Span­ish state by declar­ing his re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence, has fled to Brus­sels, fu­elling spec­u­la­tion that he may seek po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in Bel­gium.

Sources from the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment, which has been for­mally re­moved from power by Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, the Span­ish prime min­is­ter, said that Mr Puigde­mont had trav­elled to the Bel­gian cap­i­tal yes­ter­day, re­port­edly ac­com­pa­nied by five col­leagues.

Yes­ter­day, all 14 mem­bers of Mr Puigde­mont’s ousted ex­ec­u­tive were ac­cused by Spain’s chief pros­e­cu­tor of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and mis­use of pub­lic funds for or­gan­is­ing an il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum in Cat­alo­nia be­fore declar­ing in­de­pen­dence.

Six mem­bers of the speaker’s com­mit­tee at the Cata­lan par­lia­ment face the same ac­cu­sa­tions for push­ing ahead with il­le­gal pro­ce­dures be­fore last Fri­day’s procla­ma­tion of an in­de­pen­dent Cata­lan repub­lic.

Cat­alo­nia’s pub­lic tele­vi­sion chan­nel TV3 said that Mr Puigde­mont and some of his for­mer gov­ern­ment col­leagues were “in a safe and se­cluded place”.

On Sun­day, Theo Francken, Bel­gium’s mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, had ap­peared to in­vite Mr Puigde­mont to re­quest asy­lum in the coun­try to avoid be­ing ar­rested and fac­ing up to 30 years in jail if found guilty of re­bel­lion.

A spokesman for Mr Francken said yes­ter­day that he could not con­firm ru­mours re­gard­ing the de­posed Cata­lan leader’s pres­ence in Brus­sels. The Bel­gian state broad­caster VRT said Mr Puigde­mont would “meet lawyers and po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives”.

Mr Francken is a mem­ber of the New Flem­ish Al­liance, the largest party in Bel­gium’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment, which has of­fered con­sis­tent sup­port for the cause of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence.

Fer­nando Martinez Maillo, the chief spokesman of Spain’s rul­ing Pop­u­lar Party, said that flee­ing to Brus­sels was an “er­ror and a sign of des­per­a­tion”.

And there were signs in Cat­alo­nia that Mr Puigde­mont’s en­thu­si­asm to flee the coun­try was not shared by all of his for­mer gov­ern­ment col­leagues, some of whom showed up for work in their de­part­ments yes­ter­day, de­spite the im­po­si­tion of di­rect rule from Madrid un­der emer­gency con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers.

De­ci­sions

“There are some peo­ple who are still work­ing for Cat­alo­nia in the func­tions that cor­re­spond to them – and oth­ers who will ex­plain their de­ci­sions at some point,” a source from the of­fice of Oriol Jun­queras, Cat­alo­nia’s ousted vice-pres­i­dent, said in ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Mr Puigde­mont’s jour­ney.

The source said that the now de­posed Cata­lan num­ber two had gone to work in Cat­alo­nia’s econ­omy depart­ment. Josep Rull, another ousted gov­ern­ment mem­ber, posted a pho­to­graph of him­self at his desk, on which a copy of yes­ter­day’s edi­tion of the Cata­lan news­pa­per ‘El Punt Avui’ was vis­i­ble.

The Cata­lan Mos­sos d’Esquadra po­lice force has been given di­rect or­ders from Madrid to file crim­i­nal re­ports against re­gional of­fi­cials who did not ac­cept their dis­missals.

The mys­tery as to Mr Puigde­mont’s where­abouts deep­ened when he failed to at­tend a meet­ing of his PDeCAT pro-in­de­pen­dence party at which it de­cided to run in elec­tions im­posed on the re­gion and set for De­cem­ber 21.

Cat­alo­nia, a pros­per­ous re­gion with its own lan­guage and cul­ture, trig­gered Spain’s big­gest cri­sis for decades by hold­ing an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1, which Span­ish courts called il­le­gal.

Yes­ter­day’s calm on the streets of Barcelona re­solved a week­end of un­cer­tainty dur­ing which it was not clear how the re­gion would re­spond to cen­tral con­trol.

The Cata­lan po­lice force has been given or­ders to file crim­i­nal re­ports against of­fi­cials who did not ac­cept their dis­missals

A call for wide­spread civil dis­obe­di­ence from the main civic groups be­hind the se­ces­sion­ist cam­paign failed to at­tract many fol­low­ers.

Most pub­lic sec­tor work­ers such as teach­ers, fire­fight­ers and the po­lice started work as nor­mal yes­ter­day and there was no sign of wide­spread ab­sen­teeism.

A trade union, In­ter­sindi­cal-CSC, which had called for a gen­eral strike in Cat­alo­nia, said yes­ter­day it had can­celled it.

There were no signs of any spon­ta­neous demon­stra­tion tak­ing place.

Two-hun­dred thou­sand pub­lic sec­tor work­ers re­ceive salaries paid by the Cata­lan re­gion, and another 100,000 in the re­gion rely di­rectly on the Madrid gov­ern­ment.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of sup­port­ers of a uni­fied Spain marched on Sun­day in one of the big­gest shows of force yet by the so-called silent ma­jor­ity that has watched as re­gional po­lit­i­cal lead­ers push for Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence.

Two opinion polls also showed sup­port for in­de­pen­dence may have started to wane. A Sigma Dos sur­vey pub­lished in ‘El Mundo’ showed 33.5pc of Cata­lans were in favour of in­de­pen­dence, while a Met­ro­scopia poll pub­lished by ‘El Pais’ put that num­ber at 29pc.

This com­pared to 41.1pc in July ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial sur­vey car­ried out by the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­nents of se­ces­sion largely boy­cotted the Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum, when par­tic­i­pants voted over­whelm­ingly for in­de­pen­dence on turnout of only 43pc. (© Daily Tele­graph Lon­don)

In­de­pen­dence and pro-union­ist sup­port­ers out­side the Palau Cata­lan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment Build­ing. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Car­les Puigde­mont

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