Po­lit­i­cal cri­sis mars Spain’s na­tional day


The Nation - - WORLD -

SPAIN MARKED its na­tional day yes­ter­day with a show of unity by op­po­nents of Cat­alo­nian in­de­pen­dence, a day after the cen­tral gov­ern­ment gave the re­gion’s sep­a­ratist leader un­til next week to clar­ify whether he in­tends to push ahead with se­ces­sion.

The coun­try is in the midst of its worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in a gen­er­a­tion after sep­a­ratists in the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion voted in a banned ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1 to split from Spain.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy and King Felipe VI are due to at­tend a tra­di­tional mil­i­tary pa­rade in cen­tral Madrid, where Span­ish flags have been tied to bal­conies and win­dows around the city by pro-unity sup­port­ers on the na­tion­wide hol­i­day.

Armed forces will march down Madrid’s Paseo de la Castel­lana boule­vard to mark the day that Christo­pher Colum­bus first ar­rived in the Amer­i­cas in 1492 while a pro-unity rally by mem­bers of the far-right is ex­pected in the Cata­lan cap­i­tal Barcelona.

Ra­joy has vowed to do ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent Cata­lan se­ces­sion and his gov­ern­ment said on Wed­nes­day that it would take con­trol of the re­gion if it in­sisted on break­ing away.

The warn­ing came after Cat­alo­nia’s pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont an­nounced on Tues­day that he had ac­cepted the man­date for “Cat­alo­nia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state” and signed an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion but asked re­gional law­mak­ers to sus­pend it to al­low for dia­logue with Madrid.

The le­gal va­lid­ity of the dec­la­ra­tion was un­clear.

After hold­ing an emer­gency cab­i­net meet­ing, Ra­joy told law­mak­ers that Puigde­mont had un­til next Mon­day to de­cide if he planned to push ahead with se­ces­sion and un­til next Thurs­day to re­con­sider, oth­er­wise Madrid would sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional au­ton­omy.

‘Il­le­gal’ bid for state­hood

The dead­line set the clock tick­ing on Spain’s most se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal emer­gency since its re­turn to democ­racy four decades ago.

World lead­ers are watch­ing closely and un­cer­tainty over the fate of the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has dam­aged busi­ness con­fi­dence, with sev­eral listed firms al­ready mov­ing their le­gal head­quar­ters out of Cat­alo­nia.

The re­gion it­self is deeply di­vided on the is­sue, with polls sug­gest­ing Cata­lans are roughly evenly split on whether to go it alone.

While Puigde­mont in­sisted the Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum gave him a man­date for in­de­pen­dence and has said he still wants dia­logue with Madrid, Ra­joy has re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate on any­thing un­til the sep­a­ratists aban­don their in­de­pen­dence drive. He has also re­jected calls for me­di­a­tion.

“There is no me­di­a­tion pos­si­ble be­tween demo­cratic law and dis­obe­di­ence, il­le­gal­ity,” he told par­lia­ment.

Ra­joy’s trig­ger­ing on Wed­nes­day of con­sti­tu­tional ar­ti­cle 155, which al­lows Madrid to im­pose con­trol over its de­volved re­gions, is an un­prece­dented move that some fear could lead to un­rest.

While sep­a­ratist lead­ers say 90 pe­cent of vot­ers opted to split from Spain in the un­of­fi­cial Oc­to­ber ref­er­en­dum, less than half of the re­gion’s el­i­gi­ble vot­ers ac­tu­ally turned out.

The Cat­alo­nian sep­a­ratist drive has raised con­cern for sta­bil­ity in a Euro­pean Union still com­ing to terms with Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc, and Brus­sels has urged “full re­spect of the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tional or­der”.

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel said any uni­lat­eral in­de­pen­dence move would be “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and France said it would not recog­nise Cat­alo­nia’s “il­le­gal” bid for state­hood.

Cat­alo­nia, which ac­counts for about one-fifth of Spain’s eco­nomic out­put, al­ready en­joys sig­nif­i­cant pow­ers over mat­ters such as ed­u­ca­tion and health­care.

But Spain’s eco­nomic strains dur­ing the world’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis, cou­pled with re­sent­ment that the re­gion pays more in taxes than it re­ceives in in­vest­ments and trans­fers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of se­ces­sion from the fringes of Cata­lan pol­i­tics to cen­tre stage.

Puigde­mont in­sisted on Wed­nes­day that “the ma­jor­ity of Cata­lan peo­ple want Cat­alo­nia as an in­de­pen­dent state” but Ra­joy dis­missed Puigde­mont’s push as “a fairy­tale”.

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy.

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