Cata­lan leader un­der pres­sure

Pres­i­dent pressed to de­clare in­de­pen­dence as Spain threat­ens ac­tion

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Barcelona: Cata­lan Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont came un­der mount­ing pres­sure as the rad­i­cal fac­tion of his sep­a­ratist al­liance pressed him to de­clare in­de­pen­dence just as his re­gion starts to suf­fer from the eco­nomic fall­out of the cri­sis.

Spain’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment has given Puigde­mont un­til next Thurs­day to aban­don his push for se­ces­sion, fail­ing which it may trig­ger un­prece­dented con­sti­tu­tional steps that could see Madrid take con­trol of the re­gion.

Such a move would anger in­de­pen­dence sup­port­ers in the north­east­ern re­gion and could cause ten­sions to boil over into un­rest.

But any de­ci­sion by Puigde­mont to back down would also in­fu­ri­ate hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cata­lans who voted to break away from Spain in a banned ref­er­en­dum.

On the other hand, Cat­alo­nia is deeply di­vided over in­de­pen­dence, and those who want to stay in Spain are in­creas­ingly mak­ing their voices heard, hav­ing staged two mass ral­lies in just five days.

Yes­ter­day, the far-left CUP party, an ally of Puigde­mont’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment, warned in an open let­ter that “only by pro­claim­ing a repub­lic will we be able to re­spect what the ma­jor­ity ex­pressed in the polls”.

The ref­er­en­dum took place on Oct 1 de­spite a court ban that ruled it un­con­sti­tu­tional, and re­gional au­thor­i­ties say 90% chose to split from Spain in a vote marred by po­lice vi­o­lence.

Turnout was 43%, they say, but the fig­ures are im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify as the ref­er­en­dum was not held ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial elec­toral stan­dards, with no in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to over­see the vote.

Puigde­mont had pledged to de­clare in­de­pen­dence if the “yes” vote won, but on Tues­day he gave an am­bigu­ous state­ment.

Say­ing he ac­cepted a man­date for “Cat­alo­nia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state,” he im­me­di­ately sus­pended the dec­la­ra­tion, call­ing for more time for talks with Madrid.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy re­jected talks, re­tort­ing that Puigde­mont had un­til next Mon­day to clar­ify whether or not he would press ahead with se­ces­sion and then un­til next Thurs­day to re­con­sider, oth­er­wise Madrid would act.

What Puigde­mont will do is un­clear, but var­i­ous al­lies of his are pres­sur­ing him to go down the in­de­pen­dence route.

Apart from the CUP’s open let­ter, the Cata­lan Na­tional As­sem­bly, an in­flu­en­tial pro-in­de­pen­dence as­so­ci­a­tion whose fol­low­ers are ready to take to the streets, called on him to lift his sus­pen­sion of the in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion.

In a state­ment late Thurs­day, it said it made no sense to main­tain it “given Spain’s re­jec­tion of di­a­logue,” adding it did not rule out more re­gion-wide strikes like the one that hit Cat­alo­nia on Oct 3.

But un­cer­tainty over the fate of the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has dam­aged busi­ness con­fi­dence, with sev­eral com­pa­nies al­ready mov­ing their le­gal head­quar­ters out of Cat­alo­nia.

Rat­ings agency Stan­dard and Poor’s said the re­gion’s econ­omy risked sliding into re­ces­sion if the cri­sis dragged on. — AFP

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