Cata­lan repub­lic to start talk­ing

In­de­pen­dence held off to en­able talks with Madrid

The Witness - - NEWS -

BARCELONA — Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont yes­ter­day pro­claimed the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence from Spain, but said its ef­fects would be sus­pended to al­low for talks with the Madrid gov­ern­ment.

“I as­sume the man­date that Cat­alo­nia should be­come an in­de­pen­dent state in the form of a repub­lic ... I pro­pose sus­pend­ing the ef­fects of the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence to un­der­take talks to reach an agreed so­lu­tion,” Puigde­mont told the re­gional par­lia­ment in Barcelona.

Though Puigde­mont stopped short of seek­ing the explicit sup­port of the cham­ber for the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion, the dec­la­ra­tion plunges Spain into the un­known. The Span­ish gov­ern­ment has said any uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence would be il­le­gal and has promised ac­tion “to re­store law and democ­racy” if the par­lia­ment of the au­ton­o­mous and af­flu­ent north­east­ern re­gion presses ahead.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy could take the un­prece­dented step of dis­solv­ing the Cata­lan par­lia­ment and trig­ger­ing new re­gional elec­tions, the so­called “nu­clear op­tion”. The Madrid gov­ern­ment could also ask the courts to strike down a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence as un­con­sti­tu­tional.

De­spite re­newed calls for di­a­logue with Madrid, the procla­ma­tion makes a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion more dif­fi­cult as Ra­joy has said he would not talk to the Cata­lan lead­ers un­til they drop plans for in­de­pen­dence.

Dur­ing the day, Cata­lan po­lice armed with au­to­matic ri­fles stood guard at Barcelona’s Parc de la Ci­u­tadella which houses the el­e­gant 18th cen­tury build­ing. Span­ish na­tional po­ lice, de­cried by sep­a­ratists over their use of force to hin­der an Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum, were not to be seen.

Thou­sands of na­tional po­lice re­in­force­ments sent by Madrid for the ref­er­en­dum re­main in the area, many in two cruise ships docked in the har­bour.

Pro­in­de­pen­dence demon­stra­tors gath­ered be­fore the par­lia­ment build­ing un­der the slo­gan “Hello Repub­lic” to mark Puigde­mont’s speech at 6 pm.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple demon­strated in Barcelona against in­de­pen­dence at the week­end, wav­ing red­yel­low Span­ish flags through the city cen­tre. That rally fell a week after some 900 peo­ple were in­jured when po­lice fired rub­ber bul­lets and stormed crowds with trun­cheons to dis­rupt a ref­er­en­dum ruled il­le­gal in Madrid.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­peated its call for di­a­logue in Spain to end the cri­sis in Cat­alo­nia.

Puigde­mont has also called for talks and in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tion, but Ra­joy has said he will not ne­go­ti­ate with the Cata­lan lead­ers un­less they aban­don plans to de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

Mar­kets have been rat­tled by the Cata­lan cri­sis and sev­eral cor­po­rates have moved from Catelo­nia to Madrid.

The is­sue has deeply di­vided the north­east­ern re­gion as well as the Span­ish na­tion. Opin­ion polls con­ducted be­fore the vote sug­gested a mi­nor­ity of around 40% of Cat­alo­ni­ans backed in­de­pen­dence.

Los­ing Cat­alo­nia, which has its own lan­guage and cul­ture, would de­prive Spain of a fifth of its eco­nomic out­put and more than a quar­ter of ex­ports.

The cri­sis has re­opened old di­vi­sions in a na­tion where the dic­ta­tor­ship of General Fran­cisco Franco, who died in 1975, is eas­ily re­vived by strong dis­plays of na­tion­al­ism.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Crowds gather to watch the Pres­i­dent of Cat­alo­nia, Car­les Puigde­mont, ad­dress the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment at the Arc de Tri­omf in Barcelona, Spain, yes­ter­day.

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