Catalonia referendum: Catalonian government 'de facto' suspended by Spain, President of region says

Carles Puigdemont said a 'red line' had been crossed to an authoritarian regime

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Wednesday 20 September 2017 13:28
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Spanish police storm Catalan buildings in fight over referendum

Catalonia’s regional government has been “de facto” suspended by Spain’s central government in Madrid, the President of the would-be breakaway region has said.

Carles Puigdemont said in a statement on Wednesday that Catalonia was experiencing a “state of emergency” and that the Madrid government had “crossed a red line” to authoritarianism.

The secessionist politician’s intervention comes hours after Spanish national police raided Catalan government ministries in the early hours of the morning in a bid to stop and gather evidence on a planned independence referendum slated for 1 October.

The referendum has been declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court in Madrid and denounced by the ruling right-wing Partido Popular government.

At least 13 Catalan officials have been arrested in the raids, which come as hundreds of mayors of towns in the region face state prosecutors to account for their support for the vote.

Accompanied by his ministers and speaking from the gothic gallery in the Palaceo of the Generalitat in Barcelona, Mr Puigdemont said Madrid “has crossed the red line that separated it from the repressive governments” and enacted a “de facto suspension of Catalonia’s self-government and has de facto applied the state of emergency”.

“It’s an unacceptable situation,” he added. “They have violated fundamental rights and the Charter of Human Rights. They have made an illegitimate suspension and intervention of the Generalitat by a government does not respect the basic principles of democracy.”

He accused Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of having perpetuated a “democratic shame” with his actions and said Spain had broken the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, which includes the right to self-determination and autonomy for minority groups.

Pro-independence crowds gather outside the Catalan ministry of economy as police conduct searches inside (Getty)

The Generalitat President also said he would not “retreat” from the planned independence vote on 1 October.

Large pro-independence crowds gathered in Barcelona this morning in support of the Catalan regional government after news of the raids broke. A solidarity demonstration is also planned for Madrid.

Catalonia’s elected autonomous regional government, the Generalitat, had called the referendum after pro-independence parties were able to form an administration following elections in 2015.

The president of the region’s national assembly, Jordi Sànchez, on Wednesday morning called for “peaceful resistance” to the police operation.

“The time has come. We resist peacefully. We come out to defend our institutions with non-violence,” he said in a post on social media.

On Tuesday police searched for election material including ballot boxes, voting papers and campaign leaflets – raiding private courier companies in the process.

The Spanish national assembly on Wednesday rejected a motion to support the Spanish government’s heavy-handed response to the the referendum by 166 votes against to 158 in favour, after the centre-left opposition party PSOE teamed up with left-wingers Podemos and smaller separatist parties in the parliament.

After news of the raids broke on Wednesday, separatist political parties, as well as Podemos, cancelled all their planned political events for the rest of the day.

“It is unacceptable for there to be political prisoners in a European democracy. The Partido Popular leads us to an authoritarian regression that cannot be tolerated,” a spokesperson for Podemos said on social media.

Right-wing parties however endorsed the police operation. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said he supported the raids because the Catalan government had “skipped the law and are trampling our rights”. A spokesperson for the ruling Partido Popular said that “the rule of law is stronger than those outside the law”.

Catalonia’s government is a broad church of separatist parties from the left and right, ranging from the left-wing Republican Left of Catalonia to the centre-right Democratic Convergence of Catalonia.

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