Catalan former leader forms new party a year after independence bid

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has launched a new party as he tries to rally separatists from his base in Belgium.
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has launched a new party as he tries to rally separatists from his base in Belgium.PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (AFP) - A year after threatening the unity of Spain with an attempt to declare independence, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont launched a new party on Saturday (Oct 27), as he tries to rally separatists from his base in Belgium.

The new group, named "The Call", held a founding congress on Saturday evening, marking the one year anniversary of the secession push, but it has struggled to attract a groundswell of support, with some allies languishing in Spanish jails and others choosing a more moderate political path.

The meeting of Mr Puigdemont's new party was held in the pro-independence town of Manresa, in the centre of Catalonia, near the prison where independence leaders are being held.

"A year ago, we decided that we would continue the fight, whatever the conditions and circumstances, and that we would commit ourselves to building a better country, a republic," said Mr Puigdemont said in Brussels of the new party.

In a speech relayed on a giant screen to his supporters, he alluded to divisions within the separatist camp, insisting on "moving forward united" rather than apportioning blame.

However, many of his former allies who have adopted more moderate and pragmatic positions have refused to join the new party.

Current Catalan leader Quim Torra, in a sombre televised address to mark the Oct 27, 2017, declaration of independence, said "the year that separates us from this historic date did not unfold as we wished" but added that "turning back is not an option".

The independence declaration threw Spain into political turmoil, with the central government ousting Mr Puigdemont, who then fled to Belgium, dissolving parliament and imposing direct control over the wealthy north-eastern region.

 
 

Snap polls in December saw separatist parties once again win an absolute majority in the regional parliament.

But Mr Torra, who regularly seeks counsel from Mr Puigdemont, presides over a Catalan government divided between those who back disobedience to advance the cause of independence and those who favour dialogue with new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The trial of 18 former Catalan leaders over their role in the separatist push, expected to start in early 2019, helps to keep the separatist camp mobilised.

Several dozen activists from the powerful grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which previously staged massive pro-independence street protests in Barcelona, gathered at the city's regional administration offices in the rain on Saturday to demand the official publication of the independence declaration.

"This anniversary is quite bittersweet, a day of great hope that did not materialise," said ANC president Elisenda Paluzie.

Later, more radical elements rallied in front of the regional government building, berating Mr Torra for his cautious approach. But their numbers never swelled beyond 200.

Their slogan: "One year of relinquishment, one year of submission, that is enough!"

Madrid continues to refuse to allow any referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, despite Mr Sanchez's reliance on Catalan separatist parties to pass legislation.

This has helped further fracture the independence movement.

Mr Puigdemont is due to present a "Council of the Republic" - a sort of Catalan government in exile in Belgium - in the coming days aiming to rally support for a continued independence push.

"We are not talking about a dream, we are talking about a reality, we are talking about the Catalan Republic," says a TV clip for the new party.