Spain court suspends Catalan independence declaration

Spain court suspends Catalan independence declaration

MADRID
Spain court suspends Catalan independence declaration

Spain’s Constitutional Court on Oct. 31 ordered the suspension of last week’s declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, a court source said.Spain’s Constitutional Court on Oct. 31 ordered the suspension of last week’s declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, a court source said.

“The court plenary has just provisionally suspended the independence declaration” while it examines an appeal by the Spanish government, a court source was quoted as saying by AFP. 

Additionally, Spain’s Supreme Court stated on Oct. 31 that it had summoned Catalonia’s former parliamentary speaker to appear for questioning this week to be charged over the region’s independence drive.

Carme Forcadell and her parliamentary deputies have been summoned to appear in court on November 2 and 3, Spain’s top court said in a statement.

On Oct. 1, Catalonia held a referendum organized by Carler Puigdemont’s administration which it said saw a large majority vote in favor of seceding from Spain, although turnout was just 43 percent. 

After being axed by Spanish government as a result, the 54-year-old Puigdemont reportedly drove hundreds of kilometers from Catalonia to Marseille in southern France with several members of his dismissed cabinet and then flew to Belgium. He however denied on Oct. 31 that he would seek asylum to avoid possible rebellion charges.

“I am not here in order to demand asylum,” Puigdemont told a packed news conference in Brussels.

He said he was in Belgium “for safety purposes and freedom”, without detailing how long he would stay.

Puigdemont also said his region’s independence drive should “slow down” to avoid unrest as Madrid imposes direct rule on Catalonia

“We can’t build a republic for all on violence,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding that if that meant “slowing down the development of the republic, then we must consider that a reasonable price to pay.”

Meanwhile, Puigdemont is reported to have spoken with lawyer Paul Bekaert, who specializes in asylum issues, in Belgium on Oct. 30.

“Puigdemont is not in Belgium to request asylum,” only to prepare a legal riposte to any eventual moves by Madrid, Bekaert said. 

“On this matter [asylum], nothing has yet been decided,” he told the Flemish television VRT.

“I spoke with him personally in Belgium … and he officially made me his lawyer.

“I have more than 30 years of experience with the extradition and political asylum for Spanish Basques, and it’s probably because of this experience that he came to me.”

Bekaert is also known for representing Fehriye Erdal, a militant of the outlawed Revolutionary Peoples’ Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), in a case regarding the 1996 assassination of Sabancı Holding board member Özdemir Sabancı. 

In February, a Belgian court sentenced Erdal to 15 years in jail and deprived her of civil and political rights for 10 years in absentia for crimes committed in Turkey, including being an accomplice in the assassination.

Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government in Madrid invoked a never-before-used article of the constitution to dismiss Catalonia’s leaders and impose direct rule.

The international community including the European Union, struggling with Brexit and other challenges, has largely spurned the independence declaration and has united behind Madrid.

On Oct. 30, Spain’s chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges including rebellion - punishable by up to 30 years in prison - and sedition against Puigdemont and fellow leading separatists.

Jose Manuel Maza said they had “caused an institutional crisis that led to the unilateral declaration of independence carried out on Oct. 27 with total contempt for our constitution.” A court now has to decide whether to bring charges.

Separately, Spain’s Civil Guard police force on Oct. 31 searched the headquarters of Catalonia’s regional police in a probe centered on the independence referendum, a spokesman said.

With its own language and distinct culture, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of the eurozone country’s economy.     

It had a high degree of autonomy over key sectors such as education, healthcare and the police.

Puigdemont said on Oct. 31 that he accepted the “challenge” and that he would “respect” the result whatever it is.

“I want a clear commitment from the state. Will the state respect the results that could give separatist forces a majority?” he nevertheless asked reporters in Brussels.

There had been speculation that Catalan leaders and civil servants might seek to disrupt Madrid’s move to impose direct rule but in the event it passed off without major incident.

Catalan police, now under orders from Madrid, were told on Oct. 30 they could allow the dismissed leaders to enter the government headquarters in Barcelona, but only to clear their desks.

But in the end, apart from one regional minister who tweeted a photo of himself at his desk, there was no major resistance.

Spain, Catalonia, Independence