July 20, 2018
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European Union

Catalan president suspends region's bid for independence from rest of Spain

Barcelona, Spain, Oct 10 (efe-epa).- The president of the northeastern region of Catalonia on Tuesday said a referendum had given validity to his government's bid for unilateral independence but asked the Catalan parliament to suspend the secession to allow time for dialogue with Madrid.

Spain's judiciary had ruled that the referendum, which was held on Oct. 1 despite attempts by Spanish police to prevent it, was illegal.

Speaking at Catalonia's regional parliament, a grim-faced Puigdemont said, "I want to abide by the people's will for Catalonia to become independent," adding, "we propose to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence."

So, while Puigdemont said that the result of the referendum had given him a mandate to create an independent state of Catalonia in the form of a republic, he acknowledged there was a need to engage in talks to arrive at what he called an agreed solution to the prosperous region's political unrest.

"There is a call for dialogue from across Europe because Europe calls for a solution, for us to set some time aside for talks," Puigdemont told his regional parliament.

The regional leader, who had been addressing the lawmakers in Catalan, then broke off to speak in Spanish.

"We are not delinquents, we are not crazy, we are not coup plotters, we have not become brainwashed," he said in Spanish.

"We are normal people who ask for the right to vote," he added. "We have nothing against Spain or the Spanish people, on the contrary, we want to be better understood because our mutual relationship does not work."

Puigdemont accepted that the Constitution, which the highest court in the land cited as the basis for declaring the referendum unlawful, did provide Spain with a democratic framework, but said that "there is democracy beyond the Constitution."

Immediately after his speech, opposition parliamentarians began attacking Puigdemont. A Spanish government spokesman told EFE that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's executive could not accept that a referendum that has already been ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court be validated in the Catalan regional parliament.

The spokesman told EFE that it was also inadmissible for Puigdemont to make an implicit declaration of independence but later leave it suspended.

Mirroring that sentiment, the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Miquel Iceta, told Puigdemont he could not delay a declaration he had not actually been able to make, adding the referendum had divided, rather than united, the Catalan people.

Inés Arrimadas, spokeswoman for Ciudadanos _ a business-friendly, anti-independence political formation that is the regional parliament's second-largest party _ told Puigdemont that his political project had attracted absolutely no support from elsewhere in Europe.

"No one in Europe supports what you have just done, Mr Puigdemont," she said. "You have even broken peaceful coexistence among Catalans," she added, criticizing the effect his policies have had domestically as well.

The referendum had attracted international attention after media captured images of Spanish National Police and Civil Guards breaking into polling stations, removing ballot boxes and dispersing crowds while wielding batons and firing rubber bullets.

Puigdemont's speech was broadcast live in Barcelona's downtown squares where thousands of supporters had gathered in anticipation of hearing that the region would break away from Spain.

Cheers erupted when he said, "At this point I assume the mandate of the Catalan people to become an independent state."

But the celebratory scenes were rapidly dampened when he followed up with his proposal to put the secession on hold to allow for talks with Rajoy's government.

The left-wing pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy's (CUP) regional spokeswoman Anna Gabriel expressed her disappointment at the Catalan government's apparent U-turn.

"We thought that what was going to happen was the solemn proclamation of a Catalan republic. We believed that this was what was due to happen today," she added.

She said that Catalonia had perhaps missed its chance because she believed that "the only means of negotiation with the Spanish state is a Catalan republic."

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