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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Puigdemont attacks ‘colossal outrage’ of Spanish government crackdown on Catalonia

The ousted Catalan president invoked the ghost of General Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain between 1939 and 1975

The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was released from police custody in Brussels late last night. AP Photo/Manu Fernandez/File
The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was released from police custody in Brussels late last night. AP Photo/Manu Fernandez/File

The ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has delivered a coruscating against the Spanish government which is seeking to bring him back to the country and imprison him. Writing for The Guardian newspaper, Mr Puigdemont invoked the ghost of General Franco, the military dictator who ruled over the country between 1939 and 1975 and who was responsible for brutal measures carried out against Catalonia during and after the Spanish Civil War.

“Catalonia is right now the only territory in the European Union that has been denied the supreme law its citizens voted for; the parliament that its citizens elected; the president that this parliament elected; and the government that this president appointed in the exercise of his powers,” Mr Puigdemont wrote.

“Acting in an arbitrary, undemocratic, and in my view, unlawful manner, the Spanish state decided to dissolve the Catalan parliament in the middle of the legislative term, to dismiss the president and the Catalan government, to intervene in our self-government and the institutions that the Catalans have been building in our nation for centuries.”

Mr Puigdemont said that the punishment he and his fellow four ministers who remain in Belgium face is akin to that dealt out to terrorists: “The leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code – the same as for cases of terrorism or murder: 30 years in prison.

“The vice-president and seven Catalan government ministers have been in prison since last Thursday, as well as two Catalan civic leaders, while orders for the rest of the Catalan government to be detained have been issued. This is a colossal outrage that will have serious consequences.”

The former leader, who had surrendered himself to Belgian authorities on Sunday and was released later the same day, awaits a decision by a Brussels judge about whether he and his colleagues will be returned to Spain to face trial, under a European Arrest Warrant issued by the government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

The former Catalan president called into question the competence of the Spanish legal authorities to try him: “The Spanish judicial system has its own, particularly serious, shortcomings. There is a clear lack of independence and neutrality, with the links between the judiciary and the government visible for all to see. Even at the procedural level, the legal cases against Catalan leaders contain so many irregularities that it is difficult to believe that the accused can rely on any formal guarantees.”

He also drew attention to how right-wing groups in Spain had been supporting the campaign against Catalan independence, noting that “in demonstrations convened by the governing party of Spain, ultra-right radical groups (direct heirs of the Franco regime, such as the Spanish Falange) have marched, some brandishing fascist banners and making Nazi salutes, while songs demanding my imprisonment and execution have been widely sung.

“The climate of hostility is summed up by the scream, ‘Go for them!’ from many Spanish citizens as they cheered the police patrols from around the state deployed to prevent the 1 October referendum, an effort by land, sea and air that resembled a military campaign to occupy rebel territory.”

Meanwhile, Catalonia's top tourism official has stated that tourism revenues in the region, which is visited by millions of foreigners and other Spaniards every year, could be around 450 million euros ($520 million) lower in the final quarter of the year following August’s deadly attacks in Barcelona and the uncertainty generated by the independence referendum.

Patrick Torrent, executive director in the Catalan Tourism Agency, told the Associated Press that the region will see a 10-12 percent fall in tourist numbers during the fourth quarter, which would equate to around 450 million euros.

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