Court sets up an­other show­down

Cata­lan lead­ers weigh next move af­ter rul­ing to sus­pend par­lia­ment ses­sion

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Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court has or­dered the sus­pen­sion of Mon­day’s ses­sion of the re­gional Cata­lan Par­lia­ment, throw­ing into doubt its plans to de­clare uni­lat­eral in­de­pen­dence from Spain.

The speaker of the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment, Carme For­cadell, ac­cused the Madrid Gov­ern­ment of us­ing the courts to deal with po­lit­i­cal prob­lems and said the re­gional assem­bly would not be cen­sored. But she said par­lia­men­tary lead­ers had not yet de­cided whether to defy the cen­tral court and go ahead with the ses­sion.

The sus­pen­sion or­der fur­ther ag­gra­vated one of the big­gest crises to hit Spain since the es­tab­lish­ment of democ­racy on the 1975 death of Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco.

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy called on Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont to drop in­de­pen­dence plans or risk “greater evils”.

Se­ces­sion­ist Cata­lan politi­cians have pledged to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare in­de­pen­dence at Mon­day’s ses­sion af­ter last week­end’s ref­er­en­dum, banned by Madrid and marked by vi­o­lent scenes where Span­ish po­lice sought to hin­der vot­ing.

The con­sti­tu­tional court said it had agreed to con­sider a le­gal chal­lenge filed by the anti- se­ces­sion­ist Cata­lan So­cial­ist Party.

Opin­ion polls con­ducted be­fore the vote sug­gest a mi­nor­ity of around 40 per cent of res­i­dents in Cat­alo­nia backed in­de­pen­dence. But a ma­jor­ity wanted a ref­er­en­dum to be held, and the vi­o­lent po­lice crack­down angered Cata­lans across the di­vide.

In an in­ter­view with Span­ish news agency EFE, Prime Min­is­ter Ra­joy said the so­lu­tion to the Cata­lan cri­sis was a prompt re­turn to le­gal­ity and “a statement as soon as pos­si­ble that there will not be a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, be­cause that will also avoid greater evils”. He did not elab­o­rate but rul­ing party law­mak­ers say Ra­joy, a con­ser­va­tive who has taken a hard line on Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence, i s con­sid­er­ing the un­prece­dented step of dis­solv­ing the Cata­lan par­lia­ment and trig­ger­ing re­gional elec­tions.

Cata­lan of­fi­cials re­leased pre­lim­i­nary ref­er­en­dum re­sults show­ing 90 per cent sup­port in favour of break­ing away. But turnout was only about 43 per cent as Cata­lans who favour re­main­ing part of Spain mainly boy- cot­ted the bal­lot and many polling sta­tions were closed.

Puigde­mont said, in re­sponse to a ques­tion from the Ger­man Bild daily, that he is not afraid of be­ing ar­rested.

“And I’m not sur­prised any more about what the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment is do­ing. My ar­rest is also pos­si­ble, which would be a bar­baric step.”

Nei­ther the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment nor the ju­di­ciary has threat­ened to ar­rest Puigde­mont, though Madrid ac­cuses him of break­ing the law by ig­nor­ing a Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing for­bid­ding the ref­er­en­dum.

On Thurs­day, in a tele­vised ad­dress, Puigde­mont re­newed his call for me­di­a­tion in the dis­pute but said the re­sults of the ref­er­en­dum would have to be ap­plied.

Ra­joy has ruled out in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tion as a for­mat for re­solv­ing the fu­ture of Cat­alo­nia, of­fer­ing in­stead all- party Span­ish po­lit­i­cal talks to find a so­lu­tion, on con­di­tion in­de­pen­dence is taken off the ta­ble.

Barcelona foot­ball club joined cap­tain An­dres Ini­esta in call­ing for talks be­tween the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment and Cata­lan lead­ers to re­solve the cri­sis.

“We will go as far as peo­ple want it. But with­out the use of force,” Puigde­mont told Bild. “I am sure that Spain will not be able to ig­nore the will of so many peo­ple.” Trop­i­cal Storm Nate roared to­ward Mex­ico’s Yu­catan Penin­sula af­ter drench­ing Cen­tral Amer­ica in rain that was blamed for at least 22 deaths, and fore­cast­ers said it could reach the US Gulf Coast as a hur­ri­cane in the com­ing days. Louisiana of­fi­cials de­clared a state of emer­gency and or­dered some peo­ple to evac­u­ate coastal ar­eas and bar­rier is­lands ahead of its ex­pected land­fall on Mon­day, and evac­u­a­tions be­gan at some off­shore oil plat­forms in the Gulf. At least 15 peo­ple died in the storm in Nicaragua, and at least seven died and 15 were miss­ing in Costa Rica, where flood­ing drove 5000 res­i­dents into emer­gency shel­ters. The In­ter­na­tional Cam­paign to Abolish Nu­clear Weapons ( Ican) last night won the No­bel Peace Prize, as the Nor­we­gian No­bel Com­mit­tee warned that the risk of a nu­clear con­flict is greater than for a long time. Ican de­scribes it­self as a coali­tion of grass­roots non- gov­ern­ment groups in more than 100 na­tions. It be­gan in Aus­tralia and was of­fi­cially launched in Vi­enna in 2007. “We live in a world where the risk of nu­clear weapons be­ing used is greater than it has been for a long time,” said Berit Reis­sAn­der­sen, the leader of the Nor­we­gian No­bel Com­mit­tee. In July, 122 na­tions adopted a United Na­tions Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons, but nu­clear- armed states in­clud­ing the United States, Rus­sia, China, Bri­tain and France stayed out of the talks. The No­bel prize seeks to bol­ster the case of dis­ar­ma­ment amid nu­clear ten­sions be­tween the US and North Korea. Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, the most se­nior Catholic of­fi­cial to face sex of­fence charges, was jeered by pro­test­ers as he made a court ap­pear­ance in his na­tive Aus­tralia yes­ter­day in a case that has rocked the Vat­i­can and placed scru­tiny on the Pope’s stance against abu­sive clergy. Aus­tralia’s high­est- rank­ing Catholic and Pope Fran­cis’ top fi­nan­cial ad­viser, Pell en­tered the Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court flanked by po­lice and me­dia as a small group of plac­ard- wav­ing pro­test­ers yelled from the side­walk. He did not re­act to the heck­lers. The 20- minute hear­ing fo­cused on plan­ning for the com­mit­tal hear­ing start­ing March 5 that will de­ter­mine whether he goes to trial. As many as 50 wit­nesses could be called for that pro­ceed­ing, ex­pected to last a month. The ex­act de­tail and na­ture of the charges have not been dis­closed to the pub­lic, though po­lice have de­scribed them as “his­tor­i­cal” sex­ual as­sault of­fences, mean­ing they are al­leged to have oc­curred years ago. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al- Abadi an­nounced yes­ter­day that Iraqi forces have driven Isis ( Is­lamic State) from one of the ex­trem­ists’ last strongholds in the coun­try, the north­ern town of Haw­ija. Al- Abadi made the dec­la­ra­tion at a news con­fer­ence in Paris with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who has of­fered to help me­di­ate be­tween Iraq’s Gov­ern­ment and the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion, which voted for in­de­pen­dence last week.

Pic­ture / AP

Cata­lans have taken to the streets of Barcelona this week in sup­port of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

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