Catalans urged to resist direct rule

Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor during a walkabout yesterday. Mr Puigdemont said he and his team would keep working “to build a free country”.
Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor during a walkabout yesterday. Mr Puigdemont said he and his team would keep working “to build a free country”. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Josep Lluis Trapero, the highest-ranking officer of the Mossos d'Esquadra regional police. Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor during a walkabout yesterday. Mr Puigdemont said he and his team would keep working "t
Mr Josep Lluis Trapero, the highest-ranking officer of the Mossos d'Esquadra regional police.

BARCELONA • Catalonia's secessionist leader yesterday defiantly called for "democratic opposition" to direct rule imposed by Spain's central government on the semi-autonomous region after its Parliament declared unilateral independence.

"The best way to defend what we have achieved to date is democratic opposition to the application of Article 155," Mr Carles Puigdemont, who was officially deposed by Madrid last Friday, said in a carefully worded televised statement that appeared to indicate he did not accept his dismissal.

Mr Puigdemont was referring to the never-before-used constitutional article that gives Madrid the powers to impose direct rule, adding that he and his team would keep working "to build a free country".

In his first comments since being deposed as president of Catalonia, he did not clarify whether he would carry on as leader of a new republic that is not recognised by Madrid or foreign governments.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan government, took over its administration and called for a new regional election on Dec 21 after the regional Parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence last Friday, aggravating Spain's worst political crisis in four decades.

The declaration of Catalonia as a separate nation was almost immediately rendered futile by Mr Rajoy's actions, while other European countries such as Germany, France and Britain, as well as the United States, also rejected it and expressed support for a unified Spain and its Prime Minister.

But emotions are running high and the next few days will be tricky for Madrid as it embarks on enforcing direct rule.

  • 4pm Spanish Senate authorises PM Mariano Rajoy's government to rule Catalonia from Madrid.

    6pm Spanish government meets to discuss direct rule.

    8.30pm Mr Rajoy announces on TV that he has dissolved Catalan Parliament and that new regional elections will be held on Dec 21. He also removes separatist leader Carles Puigdemont and his executives from office.

    Oct 28, 8am Spain fires Catalonia's regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, seen as an ally of separatist leaders.

  • What's next for Catalonia?

  • THE HAGUE • Spain's Senate on Friday voted to grant Madrid powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia, shortly after the semi-autonomous region's Parliament approved a motion declaring independence.

    The following are answers to some burning questions on Catalonia's move:

    Q What is a unilateral declaration of independence?

    A The term was first coined in 1965 when the minority white government of the former Rhodesia, today's Zimbabwe, declared unilateral independence from British colonial rule.

    It describes the process where a new state is established within an existing country, declaring itself sovereign and independent without the consent of the country from which it is seceding.

    Q Does Catalonia have a right to declare self-rule?

    A "Any entity has the right to declare its independence. But to become a state, that of course requires a territory, a population and the authorities," said Mr Jean-Claude Piris, a Brussels-based international law consultant.

    "But what matters most is recognition by the international community," he said.

    Without international recognition or representation in international organisations, he said, Catalonia's independence will remain an empty declaration and it will legally remain part of Spain.

    Q Is Catalonia's declaration legal?

    A Two legal findings may help determine the answer - a 2010 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, and a 1998 opinion by the Canadian Supreme Court.

    The ICJ concluded that Kosovo's declaration "did not violate international law" or United Nations Security Council resolutions.

    In the case of Quebec, the Canadian Supreme Court advised in 1998 that people only have a right to secede when they are victims of colonisation, are oppressed and exploited, or are denied access to a federal government.

    "But this is not the case at all for Catalonia, which enjoys democratic rights," said Mr Piris, noting that the Catalans are acting outside of the Spanish constitutional framework.

    Q What happens next?

    A "What matters now is what will happen nationally and on the streets," said Mr Piris.

    "Are there going to be demonstrations, barricades? Will people accept and submit... or will there be violence?"

    Spain "experienced a civil war not so long ago and just before World War II", Mr Piris pointed out.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But emotions are running high and the next few days will be tricky for Madrid as it embarks on enforcing direct rule.

Mr Rajoy has designated Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz Santamaria to oversee the process.

Yesterday, in Madrid, thousands gathered under a giant Spanish flag in anger and shouted "Prison for Puigdemont".

The Spanish public prosecutor's office said last Friday it will file rebellion charges this week against Mr Puigdemont.

The regional Parliament's vote, which was boycotted by three national opposition parties, capped a battle of wills between the independence movement, headed by Mr Puigdemont, and the Madrid government.

The separatists say a referendum on Oct 1 gave them a mandate for independence. However, less than half of the eligible voters turned out for the ballot, which Madrid declared illegal and tried to stop.

The regional police force has urged its officers not to take sides, an internal note seen by Reuters showed. The Madrid government also sacked regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero yesterday.

There have been doubts over how the Mossos d'Esquadra, as the Catalan police are called, would respond if ordered to evict Mr Puigdemont and his government.

The force is riven by distrust between those for and against independence, and is estranged from Spain's national police forces.

"Given that there is likely to be an increase in gatherings and rallies of citizens in all the territory and that there are people of different thoughts, we must remember that it is our responsibility to guarantee the security of all and help these to take place without incident," said the memo.

Some analysts say street confrontation is possible as Madrid enforces control, but there was no trouble overnight and the streets of Barcelona were quiet yesterday.

The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, has urged civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government and to mount "peaceful resistance" while a pro-independence trade union, the CSC, called a strike.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Catalans urged to resist direct rule'. Print Edition | Subscribe