Catalonia Declares Independence from Spain, Madrid Promises Direct Rule

People celebrate after the Catalan regional parliament passes the vote of independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
People celebrate after the Catalan regional parliament passes the vote of independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
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Catalonia Declares Independence from Spain, Madrid Promises Direct Rule

People celebrate after the Catalan regional parliament passes the vote of independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
People celebrate after the Catalan regional parliament passes the vote of independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Catalonia’s parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday in defiance of the Madrid government, which at the same time was wagging its finger to impose direct rule over the region.

Although the declaration was in effect a symbolic gesture as it will not be accepted by Spain or the international community, the moves by both sides take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new level.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy immediately called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored.

The motion passed in the regional parliament in Barcelona -- which was boycotted by opposition parties -- said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state. It called on other countries and institutions to recognize it.

It also said it wanted to open talks with Madrid to collaborate on setting up the new republic.

“It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be free, it is not going to change in a day. But there is no alternative to a process towards the Catalan Republic,” lawmaker Marta Rovira of the Junts pel Si pro-independence alliance said in a debate leading to the vote.

After the debate, lawmakers from members of three main national parties -- the People’s Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos, walked out.

Members of the pro-independence parties and the far-left Podemos then voted in 70-10 in favor in a secret ballot aimed at hindering any attempt by the central government to lay criminal charges on them.

Spanish shares and bonds were sold off when the result of the vote was announced.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont left the chamber to shouts of “President!”.

Meanwhile in Madrid the upper house of Spain’s parliament, the Senate, was due to approve Article 155, the law that allowing the central government to take over the autonomous region.
“Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate. “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law.”

The Catalan leadership was ignoring the law and making a mockery of democracy, he said.

“We are facing a challenge unprecedented in our recent history,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position against Catalonia’s campaign to break away from Spain.

After the Senate vote, Rajoy was expected to convene his cabinet to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia directly. This could include sacking the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

But how direct rule would work on the ground - including the reaction of civil servants and the police - is uncertain.

Some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience, which could lead to direct confrontation with security forces.

Independence Declaration Changes Nothing for EU

While Barcelona’s streets were crowded with independence supporters shouting “Liberty” in the Catalan language and singing traditional Catalan songs, president of the European Council Donald Tusk said on Friday that the Catalan parliament's declaration of independence has changed nothing and the European Union will only deal with the central government in Madrid.

Spain remains our only interlocutor," Tusk said on Twitter.

Tusk also urged Spain to favor "force of argument, not argument of force."

The crisis developed after an independence referendum on Oct. 1 was declared illegal by Madrid. Although it endorsed independence, it drew only a 43 percent turnout as Catalans who oppose independence largely boycotted.

It has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain - national flags now hang from many balconies in the capital in an expression of unity.

It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy northeastern region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s most prosperous regions and already has a high degree of autonomy. But it has a litany of historic grievances, exacerbated during the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when its culture and politics were suppressed.



Ukraine Summit Attracts World Leaders, Fails to Isolate Russia

This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
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Ukraine Summit Attracts World Leaders, Fails to Isolate Russia

This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.

World leaders will join Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a summit this weekend to explore ways of ending the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two, but Russia isn't invited and the event will fall short of Kyiv's aim of isolating Moscow.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan are among those set to attend the June 15-16 meeting at the Swiss mountaintop resort of Buergenstock.

India, which has helped Moscow survive the shock of economic sanctions, is expected to send a delegation. Turkey and Hungary, which similarly maintain cordial ties with Russia, will be represented by their foreign ministers.

But despite months of intense Ukrainian and Swiss lobbying, some others will not be there, most notably China, a key consumer of Russian oil and supplier of goods that help Moscow maintain its manufacturing base.

"This meeting is already a result," Zelenskiy said in Berlin on Tuesday, while acknowledging the challenge of maintaining international support as the war, now well into its third year, grinds on.

Ninety-two countries and eight organizations will attend, Switzerland said. Organizers preparing a joint statement have battled to strike a balance between condemning Russia's actions and securing as many participants as possible, diplomats say.

A final draft of the summit declaration refers to Russia's "war" against Ukraine, and also underlines commitment to the UN charter and respect for international law, according to two people familiar with the document.

Participants not in agreement with the declaration have until the end of Friday to opt out, the sources said.

The Swiss foreign ministry declined to comment.

Switzerland wants the summit to pave the way for a "future peace process" in which Russia takes part - and to determine which country could take on the next phase.

'FUTILE'

The idea of a summit was originally floated after Zelenskiy presented a 10-point peace plan in late 2022.

Ulrich Schmid, a political scientist and Eastern Europe expert at the University of St. Gallen, said the summit appeared to be "a mixed bag" so far, given the show of support from some quarters and China's absence.

"Then the question arises: is peace actually doable?" Schmid added. "As long as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is in power... it will be difficult."

Putin said on Friday that Russia would cease fire and enter peace talks if Ukraine dropped its NATO ambitions and withdrew its forces from four Ukrainian regions claimed by Moscow. Kyiv has repeatedly said its territorial integrity is non-negotiable.

Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, has described the idea of a summit to which it is not invited as "futile".

Moscow casts its "special military operation" in Ukraine as part of a broader struggle with the West, which it says wants to bring Russia to its knees. Kyiv and the West say this is nonsense and accuse Russia of waging an illegal war of conquest.

Given such entrenched differences, the summit will focus on parts of Zelenskiy's plan broad enough to be palatable to most, if not all, participants. These include the need to guarantee food security, nuclear safety, freedom of navigation, prisoner exchanges, and the return of children, officials said.

Meanwhile, China, along with Brazil, is pushing a separate peace plan for Ukraine that calls for the participation of both warring parties. Moscow has voiced its support for Beijing's efforts to end the conflict.

Kyiv has not hidden its frustration at China's decision to skip the Swiss summit. Zelenskiy even accused Beijing of helping Russia to disrupt it, an extraordinary outburst against a global superpower with unrivalled influence over Moscow.

On the battlefield, the gathering comes at a difficult time for Ukraine. Russian troops, who control around 18% of Ukrainian territory, are advancing in the east in a war that has killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, left villages, towns and cities in ruins and uprooted millions.