Monday

18th Dec 2017

Thousands march for Catalonia in Brussels

  • Belgian police estimated 45,000 attended the march (Photo: EUobserver)

Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont led a demonstration of some 45,000 people in Brussels with appeals to the European Commission for support in mediating their cause.

The march on Thursday (7 December) follows a tense stand-off between Puigdemont and Madrid over his bid to separate Catalonia from Spain and comes ahead of a regional Catalan election later this month.

Addressing both the crowds and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker by name, Puigdemont said "Europe must realise that it can still play a role in the Catalan crisis".

Pro-Catalan independence supporters have felt slighted by a commission that has tacitly backed Madrid's hold on one of Spain's wealthiest regions.

Spain says Catalan's independence bid is a violation of the Spanish constitution. A show of force in October saw Spanish police beat referendum voters in footage that was widely condemned.

Puigdemont said the display of public solidarity by tens of thousands of people on Thursday demonstrates the legitimate rights of democrats.

"Is there any place in the world that holds demonstrations like this to support 'criminals'?" he said, in reference to an imprisoned Catalan leadership in Spain.

Puigdemont along with four other Catalan ministers had fled to Brussels to escape the Spanish justice system. Spain had also issued a European warrant for his arrest, which was recently rescinded.

Puigdemont intends to run in the upcoming regional elections but plans to remain in Belgium for the moment.

He is likely to get arrested upon his return to Spain. The independence movement views Brussels as an important platform for its cause.

TV restrictions

But images of the march are unlikely to reach some of the Catalan public back home, given an order by Madrid to impose public television and radio restrictions.

The Spanish government had activated an article in the constitution that limits Catalan public media exposure of the movement until the 21 December elections.

Frans Timmermans, the EU commission vice-president, told reporters on Thursday that people have a right to demonstrate but noted that not everyone supports the Catalan position.

"It is not really a one-way protest, if we take into the account what we have seen in the streets of Barcelona in recent months," he said.

He noted that any citizen has a right to organise in an effort to express a political ambition or hope.

"What is not permissible in a country - where there is a rule of law - is to ignore the law," he said.

EU urges Spanish and Catalan leaders to talk

MEPs and the European Commission have called on Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont to "sit together" and find a way out of the crisis over the push for the region's independence, and ruled out any mediation.

Let Puigdemont fight elections, Nobel winner says

Spain should allow Catalonia's deposed political leaders to return freely home and participate in the upcoming December elections, Finnish former president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Martti Ahtisaari, has advised.

Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

EU summit leaders on Thursday will not reach any deal on migration, while Italy and the Visegrad Group countries confront each other on the Trust Fund for Africa. The debate on internal EU asylum relocation, however, remains off the table.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

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