Deposed Catalan leader Puigdemont continues to defy Madrid as pro-unity protests take Barcelona

Pro-unity protesters gathered for a rally in Catalonia’s capital Barcelona on Sunday, two days after regional lawmakers voted to break away from Spain, plunging the country into an unprecedented political crisis.

Posted by Jian Ping Sun on Sunday, 29th October 2017

As protesters gathered for the march, the deputy president of the region’s now-deposed government lashed out against Madrid over what he called a "coup d’etat".
"The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont," his deputy Oriol Junqueras wrote in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui. He used the word "country" to refer to Catalonia, whose lawmakers pushed Spain into uncharted waters Friday with a vote to declare the region independent.

"We cannot recognize the coup d’etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions that the PP (Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party) is adopting by remote control from Madrid," Junqueras wrote. He signed the article as the "vice president of the government of Catalonia".

There were fears on Saturday that Mr Puigdemont faced imminent arrest after he continued to defy Madrid by standing by the declaration of independence he led in Catalonia’s parliament.

Mr Puigdemont could face more than 30 years in prison and sources from the Spanish public prosecutor’s office said they would demand that he be remanded in custody as soon as he is arrested.

Spain’s prosecution service was preparing accusations of rebellion and misuse of public funds against Mr Puigdemont for going ahead with an illegal referendum on independence for Catalonia, held on October 1 amid scenes of police violence against hundreds of voters.

However, a spokesperson for Madrid central government has since said Mr Puigdemont will be able to stand in the upcoming snap election. "

In a televised address Saturday afternoon, hours after he was officially dismissed by government decree under emergency powers granted to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Mr Puigdemont raised the stakes again by asking Catalans “to defend our conquests” through the use of mass civil disobedience.

Ignoring the fact that he had been formally dismissed from his post, Mr Puigdemont said: “We cannot and do not want to win through force. Not us.”

Catalan activists are preparing to defend the declaration of independence, despite the fact that the international community has snubbed the declaration.
Theo Francken, the Belgian minister for asylum and migration, said that Mr Puigdemont may be able to seek asylum in Belgium should the need arise.
“Catalans who feel politically threatened can apply for asylum in Belgium. This includes the minister-president Puigdemont. It’s completely legal.”

The Spanish government on Saturday appeared to have gained the upper hand in a standoff with the Catalonian government by taking swift and what it hopes will prove decisive action as pro-union sentiment grows.

The decisions agreed by Mr Rajoy’s cabinet on Friday evening, to use special powers granted to the government by Spain’s senate to remove Carles Puigdemont as leader of the Catalan government along with all of his ministers, came into effect in the early hours of Saturday, effectively undoing the declaration of a republic that had lasted only half a day.

In all, at least 150 officials and their appointed aides were stripped of their jobs by the measures. Diplomat for Catalonia’s network of foreign ‘ambassadors’ that has long raised hackles, with the administration in Madrid, was another casualty of Spain’s measures.

Juan Ignacio Zoído, Spain’s interior minister and now in charge of security in Catalonia, moved to replace the chief of the regional police force, Josep Lluís Trapero. The reason given for removing him as the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra force was Major Trapero’s “legal situation”, given that the former police chief is one step away from being charged with sedition for his role in allegedly allowing the illegal October 1 referendum to go ahead.

“The question is who’s in charge?" said Manolo, who did not wish to give his surname. How can we have elections because Madrid orders them?"

Catalonia’s pro-independence parties have to decide quickly whether and how they will take part in the snap ballot called for December 21 by Mr Rajoy.

The independence movement only enjoyed a slight majority in Catalonia’s parliament, and some activists fear a boycott will mean a comfortable majority for pro-Madrid parties come December.

Seemingly exhausted by weeks of decision making over whether and how to proclaim independence, Mr Puigdemont’s televised statement on Saturday expressed determination but gave no details on what the ousted Catalan government plans to do in the coming weeks.

“Our will is to continue working to fulfill our democratic mandates,” Mr Puigdemont said.

One other member of the axed Catalan government, Josep Rull, remained defiant. Announcing on Twitter that his territory and sustainability department had approved contracts to improve Catalonia’s rail network worth 9.5 million euros, Mr Rull ended the message by saying: "We continue".

In Madrid thousands massed under Colón square’s massive Spanish flag to demand that Catalonia’s rebellion be put to an end. "Prison for Puigdemont", demonstrators shouted.

Volunteers to heed a call to mount the civil disobedience hinted at by Mr Puigdemont, are not hard to find. “If they say that Puigdemont and the speaker of parliament are going to be arrested, we will go and defend them. It will be peaceful resistance. Let it be they who do the violence,” Sara, a 17-year-old who did not wish to reveal her surname, told to media

Eva Casas, a 54-year-old bookseller from Barcelona, recalls what she calls the Spanish security forces’ “terrorist violence” as they attempted to break up the referendum. “Today we are a republic. Tomorrow the forces of occupation will try and stop us. We are Spain’s last colony. Spain doesn’t know us, but they want our territory and our wealth.

“The police came in to the polling station and we weren’t afraid. People took the blows, went to hospital and came out in slings to cast their votes. We hope this time that the European Union will condemn Rajoy and his violence.”

Barcelona is bracing for economic uncertainty after investors sold off Spanish bonds and shares in Catalan banks in reaction to Friday’s vote, while Catalonia’s future in the EU single market looked in doubt.

Announcing draconian measures to impose direct rule on the region yesterday, Mr Rajoy said he hoped his planned restoration of constitutional order would mean that “no more companies and no more investors” would join the exodus after two of the country’s top five banks announced their decision to leave Catalonia.

But large global banks and funds are no longer convinced that the premier can contain the crisis.

“ We are going to destroy the work of two generations in Catalonia,” said Joaquín Gay, president of Foment de Treball, the region’s leading business organisation.
Nearly 1,700 companies have moved their headquarters outside of Catalonia since the referendum three weeks ago.

Many business leaders are worried that as a result of the uncertainty the Catalan economy, the largest in Spain and which accounts for a fifth of its GDP, will lose its strength. Earlier this month, as a result of the uncertainty, Spain cut growth forecasts for its economy next year from 2.3 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

“When you lose CaixaBank, a symbol of Catalonia, it’s demoralising. Companies like Sabadell are going to move their top management, and then it will be assets leaving. The same thing that happened to Quebec is going to happen here,” Said by Carlos Rivadulla of the association Empresaris de Catalunya who are Catalan business people.

Sabadell confirmed on Friday that it is moving its management offices out of Barcelona, following its decision to change registered office earlier in the month.
"Money is easily scared and even though we tell customers there is no problem, many have decided to move their money," he added

The immediate impact on tourism - a crucial constituent of the Barcelona economy - has also been marked.

Flight booking forecasting business, ForwardKeys, reported that air travel bookings to Catalonia are down 22 per cent this month compared to the same period last year.
As a result, local businesses are suffering. Javier, who runs three restaurants in Barcelona said: "We’ve seen an alarming drop-off in business of more than 30 per cent since the start of October. It’s unsustainable if this carries on.

"People in the tourism trade are all saying the same and it is impossible to overstate the importance of these services to Catalonia’s economy."

Investors appeared to believe the crisis will be resolved, though analysts say the risks are growing daily. “We still think that the economic effects of this political crisis will be manageable,” said Stephen Brown, economist at Capital Economics.

Editor: Jim Michael

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