Cata­lans draft­ing dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD -

Cata­lan se­ces­sion­ists are work­ing to­wards a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Spain that could be adopted next week in de­fi­ance of a court or­der and in­creased eco­nomic pres­sure from Madrid.

Af­ter Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court sus­pended a ses­sion of the Cata­lan re­gional par­lia­ment set for Mon­day, which had been ex­pected to en­dorse an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion, the par­lia­ment said the re­gion’s pro-in­de­pen­dence leader Car­les Puigde­mont would ad­dress the assem­bly on Wed­nes­day.

Madrid apol­o­gised for the first time yes­ter­day for po­lice use of vi­o­lence in try­ing to hin­der a ref­er­en­dum it had de­clared il­le­gal. The crack­down raised the tem­per­a­ture of a con­fronta­tion that has grown into the worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis for decades in Spain.

A Cata­lan leg­is­la­tor was quoted by El Mundo news­pa­per as say­ing se­ces­sion­ist par­ties in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment were dis­cussing an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion to be sub­mit­ted to the assem­bly next Wed­nes­day. ‘‘We are in talks about a text, with pa­per and pen­cil, on the dec­la­ra­tion that we want the re­gional par­lia­ment to ac­cept,’’ said Car­les Riera, a law­maker from the pro-in­de­pen­dence CUP (Pop­u­lar Unity Can­di­dacy).

The Cata­lan re­gion’s head of for­eign af­fairs, Raul Romeva, told the BBC ear­lier that the Cata­lan par­lia­ment in­tended to make a de­ci­sion on in­de­pen­dence, with­out spec­i­fy­ing when.

The Span­ish gov­ern­ment stepped up the eco­nomic pres­sure on the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day by pass­ing a law to make it eas­ier for com­pa­nies to move their op­er­a­tions around the coun­try, po­ten­tially deal­ing a blow to the re­gion’s fi­nances.

Within hours of the gov­ern­ment’s move, Caix­aBank, Spain’s third-big­gest lender and Cat­alo­nia’s big­gest com­pany, said its board had de­cided to move its reg­is­tered of­fice to Va­len­cia ‘‘in light of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sit­u­a­tion in Cat­alo­nia’’.

Cat­alo­nia-based util­ity Gas Nat­u­ral said its board had de­cided to move its reg­is­tered of­fice to Madrid for as long as the legal un­cer­tainty con­tin­ued. They joined other Cat­alo­nia-based com­pa­nies that an­nounced plans this week to move their reg­is­tered of­fices else­where in Spain.

Spain made a con­cil­ia­tory ges­ture in apol­o­gis­ing for last Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum vi­o­lence, where Span­ish po­lice used ba­tons and rub­ber bul­lets to stop peo­ple vot­ing. The scenes brought world­wide con­dem­na­tion and fanned sep­a­ratist feel­ing but failed to pre­vent what the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment de­scribed as an over­whelm­ing ‘‘yes’’ vote.

‘‘When I see th­ese images, and more so when I know peo­ple have been hit, pushed and even one per­son who was hos­pi­talised, I can’t help but re­gret it and apol­o­gise on be­half of the of­fi­cers that in­ter­vened,’’ said En­ric Millo, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Cat­alo­nia.

The apol­ogy came af­ter Cata­lan news­pa­per La Van­guardia quoted sources in Puigde­mont’s party as say­ing a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence could be de­layed if Madrid made a ‘‘ges­ture’’, such as with­draw­ing some Span­ish po­lice re­in­force­ments from the re­gion.

Ar­tur Mas, a for­mer head of the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment who was barred from pub­lic of­fice for two years in March for stag­ing an in­for­mal in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in 2014, told the Fi­nan­cial Times that the re­gion had yet to lay the ground­work for ‘‘real in­de­pen­dence’’.

He said there was a de­bate among Cata­lan lead­ers about whether now was the right time to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

Amid calls from many groups, in­clud­ing the Barcelona foot­ball club, for a me­di­ated so­lu­tion to the stand­off, Swiss state broad­caster RTS said neu­tral Switzer­land was ready to help forge a di­a­logue be­tween the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and Cat­alo­nia. The for­eign min­istry said Switzer­land was in touch with Spain and Cat­alo­nia but con­di­tions for talks were not yet ripe.

Puigde­mont has called for in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tion to find a way out of the im­passe. Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy has of­fered all-party po­lit­i­cal talks, open­ing the door to a deal giv­ing Cat­alo­nia more au­ton­omy, but only if the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment gives up any in­de­pen­dence am­bi­tions.

Span­ish rul­ing-party law­mak­ers say Ra­joy is con­sid­er­ing in­vok­ing the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion to dis­solve the Cata­lan par­lia­ment and force fresh elec­tions if the re­gion’s gov­ern­ment goes ahead with an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion.

REUTERS

A sup­porter of Span­ish unity walks past graf­fiti in the Cata­lan town of Sabadell ask­ing the Euro­pean Union to help re­solve the split be­tween Cat­alo­nia and the Span­ish gov­ern­ment.

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