Catalans Signal They May Declare Independence Within a Week
Catalan separatist leaders signaled they may be moving toward a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week after hundreds of activists were injured on Sunday as they sought to stop Spanish police from shutting down an illegal referendum.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont appealed to the European Union for support as he pledged to inform the regional parliament of the result of the vote in the coming days. The assembly will then act in line with the referendum law, Puigdemont said -- and that could lead to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the notification.
“The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state,” Puigdemont said in a televised statement, flanked by members of his regional administration.
Two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast in total, government spokesman Jordi Turull said at a press conference in the early hours of Monday. Just over 5 million people were eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes.
Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Oct. 6, exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also declared independence. Companys was executed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is wrestling with his country’s biggest constitutional crisis since Franco’s death in 1975 as Puigdemont looks to harness decades of frustration to force Catalonia out of Spain. Heading a minority government, Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority as allies peel off in the national parliament and his officials struggle to enforce the law in the rebel region.
While a declaration of independence would have no legal force, and would most likely not be recognized by the international community, it would nevertheless constitute a historic challenge to the authority of the Spanish government and state institutions.
On Sunday night, Rajoy praised police for their “calmness” in defending the constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes in their efforts to shut down the vote. As forces deployed, camera phones beamed the confrontations to the world. In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs. In another, police rip ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials.
“We’ve proved that our rule of law has the resources to repel an attack on democracy of this magnitude,” Rajoy said in a televised statement. “Look for no culprits other than those who organized an illegal act and have broken our common bonds. We’ve witnessed the type of behavior that would be repugnant for any democrat: the indoctrination of children, persecution of judges and journalists.”
As polling stations prepared to open at 9 a.m., officers in riot gear smashed in the doors and dragged protesters away by the hair, beating some with batons and firing rubber bullets at others. Despite the police brutality, Catalan government said 73 percent of polling stations were open.
“There are no words to describe what this government has done,” said Anna Bonet, a 56-year-old homemaker who’d waited since 6 a.m. to vote for independence. “We’re living under a state of emergency.”
Puigdemont described the crackdown as an “unjustified, excessive and irresponsible use of violence.”
“The European Union can no longer look the other way,” he said after the polls had closed. “It must act swiftly to maintain its moral authority inside and outside the continent when these abuses are scandalizing good men and women all around the world.”