Catalan leader appeals for international mediation
Puigdemont says Spanish police should leave region as unions plan strike
The Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has called on the international community to mediate in Spain’s territorial crisis and said he wants Spanish security forces to leave his region.
A referendum on independence in the northeastern region on Sunday was marred by police violence, leaving nearly 900 people injured, according to the Catalan government.
The police action was one of a barrage of measures taken by the Spanish government to thwart the vote, which it deemed illegal. Nonetheless, the referendum took place, albeit without conventional legal guarantees and with a turnout reported to be only around 42 per cent. Preliminary results showed that 90 per cent of voters backed independence, although most unionists appear to have stayed away.
“It’s not a domestic matter,” Mr Puigdemont told reporters on Monday. “It’s obvious that we need mediation.”
He added: “As a European citizen I believe that one cannot look the other way and say that it’s an internal matter when human rights are being violated.”
The Catalan situation has drawn increasing international attention due in great part to Sunday’s violent scenes. However, despite condemnation of the police actions by some EU politicians, such as Belgian prime minister Charles Michel and the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the bloc’s institutions have been cautious on the subject.
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Shortly before the Catalan leader’s appeal, the European Commission issued a statement that offered Madrid a degree of support. Calling for “unity and stability” it endorsed the Spanish government’s claim that the referendum had not been legal. It also reiterated that any region breaking away from a member state would have to reapply for EU membership.
However, as it proposed that both sides engage in dialogue, the Commission appeared to rebuke Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. “Violence can never be an instrument in politics,” it said.
Strike planned for Tuesday
Mr Puigdemont also called for Spanish police to withdraw from Catalonia. Several thousand civil guards and national police officers were deployed to the region specifically for the referendum and their continuing presence is a cause of tension. On Monday, demonstrators in Barcelona who had gathered to protest Sunday’s violence, chanted: “Get out, occupying forces!”
Unions and pro-independence organisations have organised a strike across Catalonia for Tuesday, in protest at Madrid’s handling of the referendum.
Mr Puigdemont’s claim on Sunday that his region had “earned the right” to statehood prompted speculation he was preparing a unilateral declaration of independence as soon as this week. But while he insisted on Monday that the referendum is binding, he was ambivalent about what exactly that will mean, saying it “entrusts us with the duty to take political decisions”.
He referred to a recently approved independence referendum law, which he said states that once there are definitive results of the vote the Catalan regional parliament will decide on whether to act on it. The final results of the referendum are expected around the middle of this week.
Although Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez urged Mr Rajoy to engage in talks with the Catalan government, there is little suggestion so far of relations thawing.
Justice minister Rafael Catalá warned that the central government “will use the entire force of the law” if the secessionist drive continues. “Our obligation is to resolve problems and we’ll do it, even though using certain measures might hurt,” he said. He added: “But if someone declares independence, we’d have to tell them they can’t.”
Meanwhile, Fernando Martínez Maillo, a spokesman for the governing Popular Party (PP), dismissed the Catalan government’s claim that 893 people had been injured by police on Sunday as “a manipulation, with the aim of achieving their illegal objectives.”