Catalonia president challenges Spain to accept election outcome

Carles Puigdemont says he is not seeking asylum in Belgium but needs guarantees to return

Tens of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators waving Spanish, Catalan, and European Union flags took to the streets of Barcelona on Sunday (October 29) as the country faced its worst political crisis in the four decades since its return to democracy.

 

A challenge has been thrown down to the Spanish government to accept the result of December’s Catalan election, whatever it may be. Catalan independence supporters would pledge to do so, their leader Carles Puigdemont promised on Tuesday from exile in Belgium. “Will they do the same?” he asked, calling the bluff of Madrid.

Mr Puigdemont, the president of an independent Catalonia – or the sacked Catalan president, depending on your perspective – was speaking to hundreds of journalists at a sweltering, packed Brussels press conference next to the HQ of the EU, just two days after the Madrid government announced that he and ministerial colleagues will face rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds charges.

If found guilty of rebellion, Mr Puigdemont could face a jail term of up to 30 years.

On Tuesday, a Spanish judge summoned the ousted Catalan cabinet, including Puigdemont, for interrogation as part of the rebellion inquiry.

In Brussels, Mr Puigdemont emphasised his determination to avoid violence and reiterated his call for EU intervention to bring about dialogue. He was in Brussels, he said, because it was the “capital of Europe”, not to claim political asylum or to intervene in internal Belgian politics.

But he said he would not be returning to Catalonia without guarantees from the Spanish authorities that he and his ministers will both be protected from the death threats emanating from the far-right and afforded a fair trial. He said they were ready to face justice.

He said that if they had stayed to resist the authorities, he believed Madrid was prepared to use extreme violence against them and he did not want to expose the people to such violence.

All the violence so far had emanated from the Spanish side, one of his ministers added, yet they faced charges that equated them with terrorists.

Civil servants

Speaking about the willingness of the deposed Catalan authorities to allow civil servants accept orders from their new masters in Madrid, Mr Puigdemont argued that “the government [ie the Catalan government that he leads] could have opted for obliging the civil servants that are faithful to the government to start a dispute for hegemony, but this government has preferred to guarantee that there will be no confrontation, that there will be no violence . . . ”

“The government said that it wouldn’t put civil servants in a difficult situation and that is what we have done . . . ” he said.

The Catalan government he leads would continue to oppose the Spanish authorities politically, he insisted. They supported the attempts of unions and civil organisations and of officials who have remained in their positions to work to avoid “the demolition of the Catalan institutional system”.

He said that part of the government had come to Brussels to denounce “the politicisation of Spanish justice, its lack of impartiality, its pursuing of ideas not crimes, and to explain to the world the serious democratic deficiencies of the Spanish state”.

He warned the Catalan people to face up to a long battle. “Our victory will be based in the unity we have demonstrated so far and the common intelligence that has allowed us to arrive here with pacifism as the only weapon and democracy as a tool that makes us invincible.”

Additional reporting: PA