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Spaniards march for unity as splits emerge among Catalan separatists

October 07, 2017
Protesters attend a demonstration called by the “Let’s talk” (Parlem,Hablemos), association for dialogue in Catalonia, in Barcelona, on Saturday. — AFP
Protesters attend a demonstration called by the “Let’s talk” (Parlem,Hablemos), association for dialogue in Catalonia, in Barcelona, on Saturday. — AFP

MADRID/BARCELONA — Thousands of people gathered in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday as Catalonia prepared to declare independence, many dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades.

The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long claimed to be distinct from the rest of the country and on Sunday held a referendum on leaving Spain, a vote the constitutional court had banned.

The Catalan authorities say that a majority of those who voted supported a split from Spain, something Madrid says is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

“I’ve come because I feel very Spanish and makes me very sad what’s happened,” Rosa Borras, 47, an unemployed secretary who had joined a noisy gathering in central Madrid, said.

Borras, wearing a “Catalonia, we love you” sticker and surrounded by thousands waving Spanish flags, added: “I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan. My family lives in Catalonia.”

Meanwhile, splits have emerged among Catalan separatist leaders over their plans to unilaterally declare independence following a secession referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to declare independence “within days”, but the region’s business minister Santi Vila proposed a “ceasefire” in the row with Spain’s central government.

In an opinion article published in Catalan daily Ara he urged the pro-secession camp to “reflect on the usefulness and consequences” of a declaration of independence.

Puigdemont put off until Tuesday an appearance in the regional Catalan parliament at which time some leaders have called for the declaration to be made.

The session of parliament to analyze the results of last Sunday’s referendum was initially scheduled for Monday but Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered that it be suspended.

The Catalan government has also not yet officially ratified the results of the vote, a move which would open a two-day period in which the parliament can declare independence.

Participants in the referendum opted overwhelmingly for secession, but turnout was only 43 percent as Catalans who favor remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the ballot.

While Vila urged caution, Puigdemont is under strong pressure from the far-left CUP party — whose support his government needs to pass legislation — to move quickly.

“The inescapable, inevitable moment of exercising self-determination has arrived,” said CUP lawmaker Carles Riera.

Puigdemont’s predecessor Artur Mas also weighed in, telling Britain’s Financial Times that Catalan leaders should focus not on “how to proclaim independence, but instead on how to make it effective.”

Analysts said the Catalan government risks losing international sympathy and giving Madrid an excuse for a hard-line response if it makes a declaration of independence based on an unconstitutional vote. — AFP


October 07, 2017
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