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Puigdemont Criticizes European Passivity in Showing Solidarity with Catalonia

Puigdemont Criticizes European Passivity in Showing Solidarity with Catalonia

Tuesday, 7 November, 2017 - 10:00
Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. (Reuters)

The ousted leader of Catalonia said on Tuesday there was an “absolute” disconnect by European officials towards the independence drive of the northeastern Spanish region.

In an interview in Brussels with Catalan public radio, Carles Puigdemont criticized the passivity of European politicians in showing solidarity with the deposed and jailed government of Catalonia.

He spoke of an "absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites" and that Catalonia's problem is an "issue of human rights that requires maximum attention."

Puigdemont is fighting extradition to Spain, where other members of the ousted cabinet have been sent to jail while awaiting the results of a probe for allegedly weaving a strategy to secede from Spain.

The Spanish central authorities are now in direct control of the northeastern region, where early polls on December 21 are shaping into an electoral battle between separatists and unionists.

Puigdemont himself was spared custody on Monday when a Brussels court ruled he could remain at liberty in Belgium until it had heard Spanish charges against him of rebellion.

The court’s decision means Puigdemont, who left Spain last month, is free to campaign for independence in the December 21 elections.

Puigdemont said on Monday his government’s actions were legitimate and criticized the Spanish judicial system for a “clear lack of independence and neutrality”.

The December vote is shaping up to be a de facto independence referendum.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT and another secessionist party said at the weekend they might run on a combined ticket, but would need to make a decision on any formal alliance - which might also include other parties - by a deadline of Tuesday.

Alliances could however also form after the election.

The independence push has dragged Spain into its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago. It has deeply divided the country, fueling anti-Spanish feelings in Catalonia and nationalist tendencies elsewhere.

Puigdemont turned himself in to Belgian police on Sunday along with four of his ex-ministers, after Spain issued a European arrest warrant on charges of rebellion as well as misuse of public funds.

All five are barred from leaving Belgium without a judge’s consent.

They will appear before a Belgian court on November 17 for a hearing to discuss the arrest warrant, prosecutors in Brussels said in a statement.

Puigdemont, writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, called for scrutiny of the Spanish judicial system and said the crisis could be solved only with a political and not a judicial solution.

“Does anyone think that the sacked Catalan government can expect a fair and independent hearing, uninfluenced by political and media pressure? I do not,” he wrote.

Spain’s central government took control of Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, after local leaders held an independence referendum on October 1 despite a Constitutional Court ban.

The region’s parliament then passed a unilateral declaration of independence. In response, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired the government and called the snap regional elections.

On Sunday, the first part of a GAD3 survey showed that pro-independence parties would win the election in Catalonia but may not gain the parliamentary majority needed to continue with secession.

On Monday, the second part showed just one in seven people in the region believe the current standoff between Barcelona and Madrid will end in independence, while more than two thirds think the process has been bad for the economy.

Published in La Vanguardia newspaper, that survey polled 1,233 people between October 30 and Nov. 3.

Optimism that a negotiated solution would be found was low, with just over a fifth of respondents thinking the crisis would lead to talks between regional authorities and Madrid.

The uncertainty has prompted more than 2,000 companies to relocate their legal headquarters out of the region since October 1. The Bank of Spain has said that if the conflict persists it could lead to slower growth and job creation.

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