Sun, Nov 26, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Catalan separatists have new plan to defy Madrid


The most popular party in Catalonia has a new strategy for wresting control away from the authorities in Madrid after a declaration of independence failed last month.

The Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party is planning a raft of measures that would challenge restrictions imposed by the Spanish state as it fought to bring the rebel region to heel, ERC secretary-general Marta Rovira said in an interview on Friday.

The group is drawing up plans to help people struggling to pay fuel bills during the winter and wants to increase subsidies for entrepreneurs, Rovira said.

However, first the party needs to defend its majority in the regional assembly.

The ERC is running on its own in a Catalan election for the first time in five years on Dec. 21, after the mainstream separatist alliance Junts pel Si broke down due to disputes over the handling of last month’s push for an independent republic.

In 2015, Junts pel Si took control of the assembly with support from the radicals of the CUP and set the region on course for its collision with the Spanish state last month.

Polls suggests that separatists groups could repeat that majority, but the race would go down to the wire.

“Now is the time to start putting together the nuts and bolts of the republic, the moment for symbolic declarations has past,” Rovira, 40, said at the party’s headquarters in Barcelona. “If the Spanish government wants to stop us from working to prevent people getting their power cut and impede our economy from prospering, then they will have to explain themselves and take responsibility.”

The ERC and the rest of the separatist movement is trying to keep supporters engaged after they failed to deliver on their promises after years of campaigning that climaxed last month.

Activists were primed to defend the Catalan government from Spanish police after lawmakers in Barcelona declared independence on Oct. 27, but deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium in secret instead, leaving supporters leaderless and confused.

The ERC is on track to be the largest group in the next parliament with 37 or 38 seats, followed by Puigdemont’s group with 24 or 25 seats, according to a Gesop poll for El Periodico released this week.

The CUP would get seven or eight seats, enough for another majority in the 135-seat regional chamber, but only by a whisker.

“We need to work to take this country forward, and if we do that transparently and with clear objectives we will generate a wider social consensus,” Rovira said.

While Puigdemont campaigns from self-imposed exile in Brussels, eight members of his former government, including former vice president and ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, are in jail in Madrid as the National Court investigates whether to bring charges of rebellion against them.

Rovira is effectively leading the ERC campaign while Junqueras is behind bars.

An ERC-led government in Barcelona would seek to free the jailed politicians as its first priority and then end the direct rule from Madrid that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed to restore order after the Catalan uprising, Rovira said.

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