Struggle for independence will continue: Ousted Catalan leader

BRUSSELS/MADRID: Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday agreed to the snap election called by Spain’s central government when it took control of the region to stop it breaking away, but he said the fight for independence would go on. Puigdemont, speaking at a news conference in Brussels, also said he was not seeking asylum in Belgium after Spain’s state prosecutor recommended charges for rebellion and sedition be brought against him. He would return to Catalonia when given “guarantees” by the Spanish government, he said.
Puigdemont’s announcement that he would accept the regional election on December 21 signalled the Madrid government had for now at least gained the upper hand in the protracted struggle over Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region that already had considerable autonomy.
Resistance to Madrid’s imposition of direct control on Catalonia failed to materialise at the start of the week and the secessionist leadership is in disarray.
But a poll released on Tuesday showed that support for the creation of an independent state of Catalonia rose to an almost three-year high in October.
Spain’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday blocked the unilateral declaration of independence made by the regional parliament on Friday — a largely symbolic move that gained no traction and led to the assembly’s dismissal by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy less than an hour after it was made.
“I ask the Catalan people to prepare for a long road. Democracy will be the foundation of our victory,” Puigdemont said in Brussels, where he showed up after dropping out of sight over the weekend.
Rajoy, who has taken an uncompromising stance throughout the crisis, is gambling on anti-independence parties taking power in the regional parliament and putting the brakes on the independence drive. Puigdemont will hope a strong showing for the independence camp will reboot the secessionists after a tumultuous several weeks.
Puigdemont did not say when he would return to Spain and denied he was fleeing from justice, but he could be called to testify before the court on the rebellion and sedition charges as soon as the end of the week. He did not specify what guarantees he sought.
The Spanish government said at the weekend Puigdemont was welcome to stand in the election. The judicial process was a separate matter, it said.
The Supreme Court also began processing rebellion charges against Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and other senior leaders on Tuesday.
The political crisis, Spain’s gravest since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, was triggered by an independence referendum held in Catalonia on October 1.
Though it was declared illegal by Spanish courts and less than half Catalonia’s eligible voters took part, the pro-secessionist regional government said the vote gave it a mandate for independence.
The United States, Britain, Germany and France have all backed Rajoy and rejected an independent Catalan state, although some have called for dialogue between the opposing sides. — Reuters