Thou­sands march and urge Spain to defuse mount­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, writes Han­nah Strange

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Worldwide -

THOU­SANDS of white-clad pro­test­ers de­scended on Barcelona and cities across Spain yes­ter­day to call for ur­gent talks on the Cat­alo­nia cri­sis, as splits be­gan to emerge within the in­de­pen­dence move­ment over how to se­cure their goal of a repub­lic.

A week af­ter the banned in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum — dis­missed as an il­le­gal “farce” by Madrid — yielded a 90pc ‘Yes’ vote, ral­lies in 50 cities urged po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to sit down at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

In Madrid, pro­test­ers raised a white flag in front of the city hall, wav­ing signs urg­ing “less hate and more con­ver­sa­tion” and “less ba­tons, more tele­phone calls”.

In marked con­trast to the sea of Span­ish flags at a rally less than a mile away, where demon­stra­tors in­sisted there would be “no di­a­logue with putschists”, many at the “Let’s talk” demon­stra­tion blamed the schism on both sides.

“I’ve come be­cause I feel very Span­ish and makes me very sad what’s hap­pened,” said Rosa Bor­ras (47), an un­em­ployed sec­re­tary who had joined a noisy gath­er­ing in cen­tral Madrid.

Wear­ing a ‘Cat­alo­nia, we love you’ sticker and sur­rounded by thou­sands wav­ing Span­ish flags, she added: “I wanted to be here for unity, be­cause I also feel very Cata­lan. My fam­ily lives in Cat­alo­nia.”

“Nei­ther of the par­ties are man­ag­ing this well,” said Vi­cen and Fer­nando, a mar­ried cou­ple in their 50s.

Guillermo Fer­nan­dez, an or­gan­iser of the ini­tia­tive, said po­lit­i­cal lead­ers were dis­play­ing a lack of will to talk. “We don’t want them to in­fuse us with hate, we want peace and not hate, so if they don’t sit down we will keep com­ing back un­til they do,” he said.

But with a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence (UDI) ex­pected this week, hopes of di­a­logue are fad­ing. Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, the Span­ish prime min­is­ter, on Fri­day in­sisted the dec­la­ra­tion be dropped as a pre­con­di­tion for talks, a sug­ges­tion roundly dis­missed by the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment.

Hard­lin­ers are ramp­ing up the pres­sure, with op­po­nents of in­de­pen­dence urg­ing Madrid to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy, and rad­i­cal sup­port­ers de­mand­ing a hard exit from Spain.

The hard-left CUP, a ju­nior part­ner in the proin­de­pen­dence al­liance, in­sisted last week on UDI by par­lia­ment to­mor­row in a ses­sion that Spain’s con­sti­tu­tional court or­dered sus­pended. Car­les Puigde­mont, the Cata­lan president, has asked to ap­pear on Tues­day in­stead to eval­u­ate ref­er­en­dum re­sults — but the CUP has again called for a snap dec­la­ra­tion. The party has only 10 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans but is cru­cial to the re­gional coali­tion.

Eu­lalia Reguant, a CUP rep­re­sen­ta­tive, pro­posed seiz­ing ter­ri­to­rial con­trol of the re­gion, in­clud­ing its ports and air­ports. “This par­lia­ment has made a lot of dec­la­ra­tions that af­ter­wards come to noth­ing,” she said. Mr Puigde­mont has al­ways re­jected a trau­matic rup­ture with Spain, see­ing UDI as a start­ing point for di­a­logue.

As banks and busi­nesses be­gan to an­nounce plans to move head­quar­ters out of Cat­alo­nia, Santi Vila, the busi­ness sec­re­tary, called for a “cease­fire” with Madrid, warn­ing against “tak­ing ir­repara­ble de­ci­sions in the com­ing days”.

Speak­ing yes­ter­day, Cata­lan spokesman Joan Maria Pique de­nied any “con­tro­versy” over the ex­pected dec­la­ra­tion. He said it would be in ac­cor­dance with the ref­er­en­dum law, which stip­u­lates a dec­la­ra­tion 48 hours af­ter Mr Puigde­mont presents the re­sults in the par­lia­ment.

Mr Pique dis­missed the no­tion that the gov­ern­ment re­tained hopes of a last­minute deal with Madrid, adding: “We al­ways said the ref­er­en­dum was bind­ing and it is go­ing to be.”

Ac­tivists on the streets hope they will not have to wait too long. In Barcelona, ref­er­en­dum de­fence com­mit­tees, set up in lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods to pro­tect last week’s vote, say they plan to march on the Cata­lan par­lia­ment on Tues­day to de­fend it against any at­tempts by cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to dis­rupt UDI.

DI­A­LOGUE: Peace­ful pro­test­ers chant­ing ‘Let’s talk’ at a demon­stra­tion yes­ter­day at Ci­beles Square in Madrid. Sim­i­lar marches across the coun­try called on Cata­lan and Span­ish co­op­er­a­tion

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