Court sets up another showdown
Catalan leaders weigh next move after ruling to suspend parliament session
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.
Catalans have taken to the streets of Barcelona this week in support of the independence movement.