Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Rajoy and Puigdemont in new showdown

  • 'The break-up in Catalonia will take time to mend, said Spanish prime minister Rajoy (Photo: lamoncloa.gob.es)

The Spanish prime minister and Catalan separatist leaders engaged in a new showdown on Friday (22 December) after regional elections in Catalonia gave a small majority of seats to separatists.

"More than a million people are in favour of Catalonia's independence. It is not a fiction, it is real," the region's former leader Carles Puigdemont said in Brussels.

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  • 'We are the legitimate government of Catalonia,' Puigdemont said in Brussels (Photo: Caterina Tani)

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October to avoid being arrested after the Catalan parliament declared independence, insisted that his strategy had been validated by voters.

"The republic has already been proclaimed, we have a mandate from the 1 October [independence referendum], and the 21 December is the ratification," he said.

In Madrid, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy replied that the results showed that Catalonia was "not monolithic" and that "no one can speak in the name of Catalonia, if he does not consider all Catalonia."

He said that the region would now enter a new stage, "based on dialogue and not on confrontation, on plurality and not on unilateral action."

In a repeat of the months that led to the independence referendum and the suspension of Catalonia's autonomy, Rajoy and Puigdemont both said they were open to dialogue, but on different grounds.

The separatist leader called on the Spanish government to "reject the unilateral way" and open dialogue.

He proposed a meeting to Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, "in any European Union country, except Spain, for obvious reasons."

But Rajoy ruled out such a meeting.

"The one with whom I would sit down is the one who won the election, Ines Arrimadas," he told journalists in Madrid.

Arrimadas's party, the liberal anti-independence Ciutadans, won the most votes and seats, but has no majority to form a government.

Puigdemont, whose list, Together for Catalonia (JxtCat), won the most seats within the pro-independence camp, insisted that he was the region's "legitimate" leader.

"I demand and I require to be respected. We are the legitimate government of Catalonia," he said, asking for "guarantees" to be able to come back to Spain and take office without being arrested.

But Rajoy said that "justice should not be submitted to any political strategy".

He said that he would "make an effort to maintain a dialogue with the government that will come from this election."

The Spanish leader admitted the result of the election, which he called when he suspended Catalonia's autonomy in the wake of the declaration of independence, were not what he expected.

"Those of us who wanted a change did not get the support we would have liked to carry it through," he said.

While implicitly admitting that separatists will continue to rule in Catalonia, he warned that he would "not accept that anyone breaks the constitution, or the law, or the statute of Catalonia."

"I hope that the new government abandons unilateral action and that it does not place itself outside the law," he said.

Rajoy did not specify when he would end article 155 of the constitution, under which he suspended Catalonia's autonomy, dismissed the government and parliament, and called Thursday's election.

He said that "article 155 will be withdrawn at the date established by the Senate: when there is a government."

Reconciliation will take time

In Barcelona, the second main separatist party, ERC, said that it would be "loyal to what voters have decided" and that it was "available for all convenient negotiations" with JxTCat to form a government with Puigdemont as leader.

ERC's secretary general Marta Rovira said that the priorities should be to "work for the republic" and free the "political prisoners" - including the party leader and former deputy head of the government Oriol Junqueras.



Rovira herself was charged on Friday for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, as Puigdemont and Junqueras, over the declaration of independence. Puigdemont's predecessor as Catalan leader, Artur Mas, was also charged.

While negotiations will take place in the coming weeks over the next regional government, and who can lead it, Rajoy admitted than the Catalan crisis is far from over.

"The break-up in Catalonia will take time to mend and that reconciliation must be the first task of who will govern," he said.

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