Catalonia presses on with independence

Thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia yesterday to protest against the move to keep the heads of Catalonia's two main separatist groups, Mr Jordi Sanchez and Mr Jordi Cuixart, behind bars.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia yesterday to protest against the move to keep the heads of Catalonia's two main separatist groups, Mr Jordi Sanchez and Mr Jordi Cuixart, behind bars.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Crisis heightens as Spanish government jails leaders of activists, sparking large protests

MADRID/BARCELONA • Catalonia refused yesterday to bow to the Spanish government's demand that it renounce a symbolic declaration of independence, setting it on a political collision course with Madrid later this week.

The Spanish government has threatened to put Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, under direct central rule if its government does not abandon independence by Thursday.

But Catalonia's government rejected Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's deadline.

"Giving in forms no part of this government's scenarios," Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said. "On Thursday, we won't give anything different than what we gave on Monday."

Spain's Constitutional Court said yesterday the referendum law passed by the Catalan government on Sept 6 to hold the vote on independence was void, a spokesman said. The court had originally suspended the referendum law as it studied its legality, though the Catalan government went ahead with the ballot regardless.

A day earlier, the Madrid High Court upped the stakes in Spain's worst political crisis in decades by jailing the heads of Catalonia's two main separatist groups pending an investigation for alleged sedition.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont tweeted following the detentions: "Sadly, we have political prisoners again."

The phrase made a clear allusion to the military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco, when Catalan culture and language were systematically suppressed.

In response, Justice Minister Rafael Catala told reporters the jailing of Mr Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium's Jordi Cuixart was a judicial decision, not a political one.

"We can talk of politicians in prison but not political prisoners," Mr Catala said. "These are not political prisoners because yesterday's prison ruling was due to a (suspected) crime."

Thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia yesterday to protest against the move to keep Mr Cuixart and Mr Sanchez behind bars. "Repression is not the solution," protesters shouted as hundreds gathered outside the Catalan regional government offices in central Barcelona.

Further protests against the detention of Mr Cuixart and Mr Sanchez were planned yesterday afternoon in front of central government offices in Barcelona, Gerona, Tarragona and Lleida, with a candle-lit protest in Barcelona at 8pm.

The pair nicknamed the "two Jordis" are accused of encouraging a major protest last month as Spanish police raided the Catalan administration's offices in the run-up to the referendum.

Police officers were trapped for hours and their vehicles vandalised as protesters ringed the building, with Mr Cuixart and Mr Sanchez standing atop a police car calling for "permanent mobilisation" against the Spanish state.

The crime of sedition can carry up to 15 years in prison.

That same incident also led to Catalonia's police chief, Mr Josep Lluis Trapero, being investigated for sedition. He is accused of failing to order his force to rescue them from the building. He has not been detained but the High Court banned him from leaving Spain and seized his passport.

Madrid announced late on Monday that it was cutting its growth forecast for next year from 2.6 to 2.3 per cent as the prolonged uncertainty rattled the stock market and nearly 700 companies moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Catalonia presses on with independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe