Cata­lan vote stale­mate keeps Spain in sus­pense

Farm­ers on trac­tors make their feel­ings known in Barcelona

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - NEWS - Barry huT­Ton

Scores of Cata­lan farm­ers on trac­tors rum­bled into cen­tral Barcelona yes­ter­day in a show of sup­port for a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive vote on whether the pros­per­ous re­gion should break away from the rest of Spain and be­come Europe’s new­est coun­try.

With the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum still planned for to­mor­row de­spite ef­forts by the courts and po­lice to stop it, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and se­ces­sion-minded au­thor­i­ties in the north-eastern Cat­alo­nia re­gion re­main on a col­li­sion course.

The trac­tors car­ried the Cata­lan pro-in­de­pen­dence flag, called the este­lada, to the of­fice of the na­tional gov­ern­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Barcelona.

Sim­i­lar trac­tor protests were be­ing held across Cat­alo­nia.

With weeks of an­tag­o­nism and ten­sion com­ing to a head, nei­ther side was show­ing signs of back­ing down from a con­fronta­tion that has pitched Spain into a po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

The Madrid-based Span­ish gov­ern­ment has main­tained the bal­lot can­not and will not hap­pen be­cause it con­tra­venes the con­sti­tu­tion, which refers to “the in­dis­sol­u­ble unity of the Span­ish na­tion”.

“This se­ces­sion­ist process has been il­le­gal from the start,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Inigo Men­dez de Vigo said.

“Since the ref­er­en­dum ... won’t have any po­lit­i­cal con­se­quence, pur­su­ing it won’t do any­thing but ex­tend the dam­age, the harm and the dis­in­te­gra­tion that it is al­ready do­ing.”

Act­ing on court or­ders, po­lice have con­fis­cated about 10 mil­lion bal­lot pa­pers and some 1.3 mil­lion posters ad­ver­tis­ing the ref­er­en­dum, and have blocked the dis­tri­bu­tion of bal­lot boxes.

The Cata­lan re­gional gov­ern­ment and lo­cal civic groups in­sist they are en­ti­tled to ex­er­cise their demo­cratic rights and in­tend to do so re­gard­less of the ob­sta­cles.

Cata­lan lead­ers, in­clud­ing re­gional pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont, said on Thurs­day that se­nior Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials should step in and bro­ker a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the stale­mate.

But Euro­pean Com­mis­sion vice pres­i­dent Frans Tim­mer­mans ap­peared to scotch that idea, say­ing yes­ter­day that the con­sti­tu­tion must be re­spected.

“That is the rule of law, you abide by the law and the con­sti­tu­tion even if you don’t like it,” he said.

Pic­ture: AP.

Peo­ple with the este­lada, or in­de­pen­dence flags, shout slo­gans on top of parked trac­tors dur­ing a protest by farm­ers in Barcelona yes­ter­day.

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