Ra­joy vows to de­feat separatists in elec­tion

Spain raises Rus­sian med­dling

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MADRID, Nov 14, (Agen­cies): Spain’s Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy said Tues­day he hopes to de­feat separatists in next month’s Cata­lan elec­tion, which will be dom­i­nated by re­gional law­mak­ers’ in­de­pen­dence drive, call­ing for a “mas­sive” turnout by vot­ers.

“We’re go­ing to work so that in­de­pen­dence groups don’t win,” Ra­joy told Span­ish ra­dio.

The Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence cri­sis has trig­gered alarm in Brus­sels as the Euro­pean Union deals with the fall­out of Brexit and more than 2,400 busi­nesses have moved their le­gal head­quar­ters out of the re­gion as un­cer­tainty per­sists.

Ra­joy dis­missed the gov­ern­ment of Cata­lan exleader Car­les Puigde­mont last month over his in­de­pen­dence bid, sus­pend­ing the re­gional par­lia­ment and or­gan­is­ing a new elec­tion.

The prime min­is­ter has been ral­ly­ing sup­port for his Pop­u­lar Party (PP) in the De­cem­ber 21 elec­tion in Cat­alo­nia — a re­gion that re­mains deeply di­vided over in­de­pen­dence de­spite its par­lia­ment’s dec­la­ra­tion.

The PP only man­aged to fin­ish fifth in Cat­alo­nia’s 2015 elec­tion, which saw pro-sep­a­ratist groups gain power in the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

On Tues­day Ra­joy is­sued “a call for mas­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion” from vot­ers on De­cem­ber 21 in the hope that par­ties in favour of keep­ing Cat­alo­nia part of Spain put in a strong show­ing.

Ra­joy

Ag­i­tat­ing

Sev­eral for­mer Cata­lan cab­i­net mem­bers are cur­rently in jail over their role in ag­i­tat­ing for in­de­pen­dence, which is il­le­gal un­der Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Ra­joy said that there was no ban on de­tained of­fi­cials con­test­ing the re­gional vote but added that they “need to re­spect the law”.

“They can all run as can­di­dates since they’ve not been de­clared in­el­i­gi­ble” by a judge, Ra­joy told COPE ra­dio.

But he ac­cused de­posed Cata­lan of­fi­cials of be­ing “po­lit­i­cal dele­git­imised” af­ter “trick­ing Cata­lan cit­i­zens” by claim­ing in­de­pen­dence.

Puigde­mont him­self is in self-im­posed ex­ile in Brus­sels and has said he wants to run as a can­di­date next month.

With fall­out from the cri­sis af­fect­ing his own PDeCAT party’s stand­ing in polling, he had hoped to form a united sep­a­ratist ticket with his for­mer gov­ern­ment ally, the left­wing ERC.

But the ERC said last week that it would not al­low its can­di­dates to run along­side PDeCAT hope­fuls.

Puigde­mont ac­cuses Madrid of ready­ing a “wave of re­pres­sion” against separatists, but EU of­fi­cials have staunchly backed Ra­joy over the cri­sis.

Mean­while, Cat­alo­nia’s de­posed pres­i­dent said he might con­sider a so­lu­tion to Spain’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that did not in­volve the re­gion’s se­ces­sion, ap­pear­ing to soften the staunchly pro-in­de­pen­dence stance that cost him his lead­er­ship last month.

In an in­ter­view with Bel­gian daily Le Soir, Car­les Puigde­mont was asked if a non-se­ces­sion­ist op­tion was on the ta­ble to re­solve a cri­sis trig­gered when Spain took over con­trol of the re­gion af­ter its par­lia­ment de­clared in­de­pen­dence on Oct. 27.

“I’m ready, and have al­ways been ready, to ac­cept the re­al­ity of an­other re­la­tion­ship with Spain ... It (an­other so­lu­tion) is still pos­si­ble,” Puigde­mont said.

“I have, be­ing pro-in­de­pen­dence all my life, worked for 30 years to have an­other way of Cat­alo­nia be­ing an­chored to Spain,” he added, giv­ing no de­tails of what form such a re­la­tion­ship could take.

He posted a link to the in­ter­view, which was pub­lished on Mon­day, on his Twit­ter feed.

The for­mer pres­i­dent is in self-im­posed ex­ile in Bel­gium af­ter run­ning an in­de­pen­dence cam­paign that prompted au­thor­i­ties in Madrid to fire his cab­i­net, dis­solve the re­gional par­lia­ment and call new elec­tions for De­cem­ber.

Puigde­mont, who had pre­vi­ously in­sisted the in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion should form the ba­sis of any po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions with Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, is un­der con­di­tional re­lease af­ter an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant was served against him.

He and four other for­mer mem­bers of the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment with him in Bel­gium face charges of re­bel­lion and sedi­tion.

Decades

Ra­joy has said he was open to talks with Cata­lan lead­ers on re­solv­ing Spain’s worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since its re­turn to democ­racy four decades ago, but only within a le­gal frame­work and af­ter the in­de­pen­dence drive was dropped as a con­di­tion.

In an in­ter­view with Ger­man news­pa­per Han­dels­blatt pub­lished on Mon­day, Ra­joy said the po­si­tion of the for­mer Cata­lan lead­ers fo­cused on the in­de­pen­dence vote and gave lit­tle room be­yond that for de­bate.

Mean­while, Spain on Mon­day raised the is­sue of “dis­in­for­ma­tion and ma­nip­u­la­tion” em­a­nat­ing from Rus­sia dur­ing the Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence cri­sis, at a meet­ing of EU for­eign and de­fence min­is­ters.

Madrid had said on Fri­day it was con­cerned by Rus­sian so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity on Cat­alo­nia, af­ter mis­lead­ing re­ports and images shared widely on­line helped fuel the standoff trig­gered by the banned Oc­to­ber 1 in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

It is just the lat­est is­sue link d to Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence through so­cial me­dia.

There have also been ac­cu­sa­tions of Rus­sian in­volve­ment in the elec­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and in the cam­paign ahead of Bri­tain’s Brexit vote.

EU min­is­ters are now ex­pected to in­crease re­sources for coun­ter­ing Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns.

“I will raise the ques­tion of how mis­in­for­ma­tion and ma­nip­u­la­tion around the ref­er­en­dum and sub­se­quent events in Cat­alo­nia have de­vel­oped,” Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Al­fonso Dastis said.

“These sit­u­a­tions of dis­in­for­ma­tion, of ma­nip­u­la­tion arise not only on our east­ern flank but in other ar­eas.”

Spain’s De­fence Min­is­ter Dolores de Cospedal said it was clear that a lot the mes­sag­ing on so­cial me­dia around the Cata­lan cri­sis came from Rus­sian ter­ri­tory, though a de­fin­i­tive link to the gov­ern­ment has yet to be proved.

“It is im­por­tant that we know that there are cer­tain en­ti­ties, which may be pub­lic or pri­vate, that try to in­ter­fere in na­tional pol­i­tics, that try to af­fect and cre­ate un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tions in Europe,” De Cospedal said.

“We have the obli­ga­tion to de­clare openly, that pub­lic opin­ion knows about it and to fight against it.”

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