Fri, Oct 13, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Spaniards mark national day with parade, protests

AFP, MADRID

A woman hugs a Catalan Mossos d’squadra regional police officer as people celebrate Dia de la Hispanidad or Spain’s National Day in Barcelona yesterday, amid one of the country’s biggest crises ever as Catalonia threatens independence.

Photo: AP

Spain yesterday marked its national day with a show of unity by opponents of Catalonian independence, a day after the central government gave Catalan President Carles Puigdemont until next week to clarify whether he intends to push ahead with secession.

The country is in the midst of its worst political crisis in a generation after people in the wealthy northeastern region voted on Oct. 1 in a banned referendum to split from Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI attended a traditional military parade in central Madrid, where Spanish flags had been tied to balconies and windows by pro-unity supporters on the nationwide holiday.

Armed forces marched down Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana to mark the day that Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas in 1492.

However, events were overshadowed by the crash of a Eurofighter jet, which went down on its route back to base after taking part in the display, killing its pilot.

Separate pro-unity rallies, including one by members of a far-right movement, were organized in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Rajoy has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession and his government on Wednesday said that it would take control of the region if it insisted on breaking away.

The warning came after Puigdemont on Tuesday announced that he had accepted the mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state” and signed an independence declaration, but asked regional lawmakers to suspend it to allow for dialogue with Madrid.

The legal validity of the declaration was unclear.

After holding an emergency cabinet meeting, Rajoy told lawmakers that Puigdemont had until Monday next week to decide if he planned to push ahead with secession and until Thursday next week to reconsider, otherwise Madrid would suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy.

The deadline set the clock ticking on Spain’s most serious political emergency since its return to democracy four decades ago.

World leaders are watching closely — and uncertainty over the fate of the region of 7.5 million people has damaged business confidence, with several listed firms already moving their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

The region itself is deeply divided on the issue, with polls suggesting Catalans are roughly evenly split on whether to go it alone.

While Puigdemont insists the Oct. 1 referendum gave him a mandate for independence and has said he still wants dialogue with Madrid, Rajoy has refused to negotiate on anything until the separatists abandon their independence drive.

Rajoy’s triggering on Wednesday of constitutional article 155, which allows Madrid to impose control over its devolved regions, is an unprecedented move that some fear could lead to unrest.

While separatist leaders said that 90 percent of voters opted to split from Spain in the unofficial referendum, less than half of the region’s eligible voters actually turned out.

The Catalonian separatist drive has raised concern about stability in an EU still coming to terms with Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc and Brussels has urged “full respect of the Spanish constitutional order.”

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel has said that any unilateral independence move would be “irresponsible” and France has said that it would not recognize Catalonia’s “illegal” bid for statehood.

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