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Catalan leader wants parliament speech amid independence bid

October 6, 2017
Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Friday asked to address the regional parliament next week amid growing challenges for his government to deliver on its pledge to declare independence for the prosperous northeastern region in Spain.

A disputed independence referendum in Catalonia last Sunday has led to Spain's biggest political crisis in decades, with the government condemning the vote as illegal, unconstitutional and invalid.

Puigdemont's separatist ruling coalition for the region suffered a setback Thursday when Spain's Constitutional Court suspended a Monday session of regional lawmakers assessing the vote's results. Some lawmakers had said that Puigdemont would declare Catalonia independent then.

Puigdemont says the vote is valid despite a Constitutional Court ban on holding it and the fact that only 40 percent of the region's 5.5 million eligible voters turned out amid strong police pressure to shut down the vote. Catalan officials say 90 percent of those who did vote favored independence.

Spain's conservative government, which is under political and social pressure after police violently tried to halt the banned vote, has rejected any dialogue with Catalan officials unless they drop plans for secession.

Puigdemont has asked now to address the regional parliament on Tuesday to "report on the current political situation." The speakers' board of Catalonia's regional parliament was to meet Friday afternoon, likely to discuss the request.

Spain's main stock index, meanwhile, was slightly down at the end of morning trading Friday, with Catalan banks leading losses amid uncertainty of what's next in the regional independence bid.

In Madrid, Spain's National Court unconditionally released two senior officers of Catalonia's regional police force and the leaders of two pro-independence civic groups who are being investigated for sedition in connection with the referendum.

The four are to be questioned again in coming days, once the court studies a report by the Civil Guard police about incidents surrounding the referendum.

The case is linked to demonstrations on Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona, when Spanish police arrested several Catalan government officials and raided offices in a crackdown on preparations for the referendum..

The four being investigated are Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, president of separatist group Omnium Cultural.

After being questioned for about an hour, Trapero left the courthouse to applause by Basque and Catalan party representatives and insults from bystanders. Sanchez also answered questions related to his defense.

"I ask strongly that the Spanish government, the national parliament and the head of state (the king) understand that time and the hours are very important to find a debated solution and give way to a political solution," Sanchez said.

Laplana, who had remained in Barcelona, declined to testify for medical reasons while Cuixart refused to testify, saying he didn't recognize the court's capacity to question him for a crime he didn't commit.

Spanish authorities say the demonstrations hindered the Spanish police operation, and that Catalan police didn't do enough to push back protesters blocking Spanish police officers from leaving a building. Two police cars were vandalized and officers were caught inside the building for hours.

Ahead of Friday's hearing, Catalan pro-independence supporters, including politicians, stood outside as Trapero, Sanchez and Cuixart walked into the National Court. Carles Campuzano, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Catalonia, described the hearing as an outrage, saying that the demonstrations last month can in no way be considered illegal.

"It's just another expression of the absolutely mistaken, authoritarian, repressive response by the (Spanish) state to the pacific, democratic and civic demand of Catalan society," he told reporters.

On Thursday, Spain's Constitutional Court ordered Catalonia's parliament to suspend a planned session next week during which separatist lawmakers plan to declare independence.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Puigdemont to cancel plans for declaring independence in order to avoid "greater evils."

___

Parra reported from Barcelona. Frank Griffiths contributed from London.

 
 
 

 

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