Spain crisis: ‘stop this radicalism and disobedience,’ PM tells Catalan leaders

Mariano Rajoy says region must stop escalating independence standoff after thousands protest at police raids government buildings in Barcelona

Spains prime minister has called on Catalan separatist leaders to end their escalation as several thousand people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest at Madrids attempts to stop a banned referendum on independence.

Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all, Mariano Rajoy said in a televised statement on Wednesday night as protesters remained in the centre of the city after a day-long demonstration.

Catalonias president earlier accused the Spanish government of suspending the regions autonomy after police intensified efforts to stop a vote on independence that has sparked one of the worst political crises since Spains return to democracy four decades ago.

Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided a dozen Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials on Wednesday as part of an operation to stop the referendum from taking place on 1 October.

Carles Puigdemont, the head of Catalonias pro-sovereignty government, described the raids as a a co-ordinated police assault that showed that Madrid has de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency in Catalonia.

He also appeared to draw a parallel between the raids and the repression and abuses of the Franco dictatorship, tweeting: We will not accept a return to the darkest times. The government is in favour of liberty and democracy.

Speaking after an emergency ministerial meeting, Puigdemont vowed the poll would go ahead.

We reaffirm our peaceful response, he said. The Spanish government has crossed a red line and become a democratic disgrace.

The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, called the raids a democratic scandal and said Catalans would defend their institutions.

Ada Colau (@AdaColau)

Es un escndol democrtic que s’escorcolli institucions i es detinguin crrecs pblics per motius poltics. Defensem institucions catalanes

September 20, 2017

Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have escalated rapidly over recent days as the government of the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, attempts to make good its promise to stop the vote.

On Wednesday morning, Spains interior ministry announced it was cancelling leave for all the Guardia Civil and national police officers tasked with preventing the referendum. In a statement, it said the affected officers would have to be available between 20 September and 5 October, but added the period could be extended if necessary.

in his TV address, Rajoy called on Catalonias regional leaders to cancel the referendum on the grounds that it goes against Spains laws. Dont go ahead. Go back to the law and democracy. This referendum is a chimera, he said.


Why does the Spanish government say the vote is illegal?


The Spanish government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the countrys 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended thereferendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament earlier this month, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

In March this year, theformer Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public officefor two years after being found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court by holdinga symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

The raids come a day after the Guardia Civil confiscated referendum documents from the offices of a private delivery firm in the Catalan city of Terrassa. More than 1.5m referendum leaflets and posters have also been seized.

The Catalan high court said that police acting on a judges orders had searched 42 premises on Wednesday including six regional government offices adding that 20 people were being investigated for alleged disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement related to the referendum.

The regional government confirmed that Josep Maria Jov, secretary general of economic affairs and an aide to the Catalan vice-president, and Lluis Salvado, the secretary of taxation, were among those arrested.

The Spanish interior ministry said that police had confiscated nearly 10m ballot papers. Polling station signs and documents for electoral officers were also seized during a raid on a warehouse in a small town outside Barcelona.

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. Photograph: Andreu Dalmau/EPA

As news of the arrests emerged, a crowd began to gather outside the finance ministry, one of the targets of the raids. By mid morning the crowd had swelled to more than 2,000 people blocking Gran Via, one of Barcelonas principal thoroughfares.

By late afternoon, under the clatter of surveillance helicopters and with a heavy police presence, the angry but peaceful rally had grown to some 5,000, with hundreds more people joining as they finished work or got out of school.

The crowd, breaking into the Catalan national anthem and waving placards reading We are voting to be free, began by chanting No tinc por (Im not afraid) the slogan used in response to last months terrorist attacks in the city.

But the chant was soon replaced by a new cry: Occupation forces out!

Smaller demonstrations were being held in other parts of the city, blocking major roads and causing traffic chaos. The mood was tense and very different from the party atmosphere at the million-strong pro-independence rally a little over a week ago.

Catalonia is mainly policed by the local Mossos dEsquadra. The paramilitary Guardia Civil, strongly associated in some peoples minds with the fascist dictatorship, is rarely seen in the region.

There were steel barriers and a heavy police presence outside the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government, on Wednesday. Outside the finance ministry, Joan Tard, a Catalan MP, appealed for calm.

Theyre trying to derail us, he told the crowd. Our strength lies in being resolute, but in a civilised and peaceful manner.

Catalan police officers try to disperse protesters in Barcelona Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images

Rajoys government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the countrys 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended the referendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament earlier this month, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, the prime minister defended the governments actions, saying Puigdemont and his supporters were trying to eliminate the constitution and were ignoring the law.

Logically, the state has to react, he said. There is no democratic state in the world that would accept what these people are trying to do. Theyve been warned and they know the referendum cant take place.

The raids signal a significant escalation of Madrids efforts to stop the vote from proceeding as do remarks from the Spanish foreign minister, who has accused some separatists of using a Nazi approach to intimidate Catalan mayors opposed to secession.

Referendums are a weapon of choice of dictators, said Alfonso Dastis in an interview with Bloomberg in New York on Tuesday. These people actually are taking some Nazi attitudes because they are putting up posters with the faces of mayors who are resisting their call to participate in this charade.

A referendum isnt the same as a democracy. Gen Franco organised two referendums.

Spains finance ministry has also launched a crackdown on the regional governments finances, limiting new credit and requiring central supervision for payment of non-essential services.

Although more than 70% of Catalonias 7.5 million people are in favour of a referendum, surveys suggest they are almost evenly split on the issue of independence.

A survey two months ago showed 49.4% of Catalans were against independence while 41.1% were in favour.

More than 80% of participants opted for independence in a symbolic poll three years ago although only 2.3 million of Catalonias 5.4 million eligible voters took part.


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