Catalonia declares support for Puigdemont


THE parliament in Catalonia has declared its support for former leader Carles Puigdemont’s right to re-appointment as president of the northeastern Spanish region. Pro-independence parties in Catalonia’s parliament announced on Wednesday that they would recognise Puigdemont’s right to candidacy for heading the regional government again.

Puigdemont went on the run in October after reading a unilateral declaration of independence for Catalonia which Spain deemed illegal. Madrid then dismantled his administration and the regional parliament and imposed direct rule. Puigdemont, who is wanted on charges of rebellion and sedition, was arrested in Germany on Sunday pending a ruling on Spain’s extradition request.

In their declaration, the separatist parties of Junts per Catalunya, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP said that Puigdemont had the right to become a candidate for Catalonia’s presidency race based on his own statements after arrest in Germany which showed he would continue to defy Madrid’s pressures and fight for regional independence.

‘The Spanish justice system’s interference has forced him (Puigdemont) to provisionally renounce his candidacy but we will not give up,’ said Gemma Geis, a member of Junts per Catalunya in the Catalan parliament.

The new Catalan parliament, which was formed following snap elections in December, initially proposed Puigdemont’s rule from exile. Spain’s Constitutional Court rejected the idea and said any candidate vying for presidency must have a physical presence in the parliament’s leadership vote.

Several people were injured in clashes that erupted in the streets of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, after Puigdemont’s arrest.

Lawyers said on Tuesday that the former leader had full trust in the German legal system and was not opposed to prosecutors’ decision to have him under custody. A court has normally 60 days to rule on extradition based on a European arrest warrant.

Spanish riot police on Tuesday broke up a Catalan separatists’ blockade on key highways in the northeastern Catalonia region as protests continue following the arrest and detention of former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

On Tuesday, TV footage showed riot police surrounding protesters who staged a sit-in in the middle of motorway AP-7, which connects Spain to France. Police forces removed the protesters one by one amid a chorus of boos from the pro-Catalan separatists.

The brief blockade of motorways, including the two main access roads into Barcelona, forced drivers to take alternate routes on Tuesday morning. The protest was organised by Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), set up just before Catalonia’s independence referendum on October 1, that was banned by Spanish courts.

‘With the latest incarcerations and the arrest of President Carles Puigdemont, it clearly seems that we have crossed the point of no return,’ the CDR announced in a statement on Monday.

The group has also called on protesters to surround the main Sants train station in Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon.

German police arrested Puigdemont on Sunday as he was crossing the border with Denmark by car.

The arrest came just two days after Spain’s Supreme Court vowed to prosecute 13 key separatists, including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull, over their role in the region’s failed breakaway bid.

Puigdemont was detained by German police as he was crossing the border with Denmark by car.

Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, accusing Catalonia’s former president of organising the vote on secession in October last year. If found guilty, the separatist figures will face up to 30 years in prison, while twelve more face less serious charges such as disobedience.

The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva said it had registered a complaint from Puigdemont. Earlier, the lawyer of the former Catalan leader had expressed concern that Madrid is likely to violate Puigdemont’s right to be elected and his freedom of expression and association by officials in Madrid.

On Sunday, thousands of people carrying Catalan separatist flags held a massive protest rally in Barcelona against the detention of Puigdemont.

Catalan riot police shoved and hit the protesters with batons to prevent the crowd from reaching the Spanish government’s representative office.

Emergency services said nearly 90 people were slightly injured during the protests, including 22 police officers. The independence referendum, called by Puigdemont despite objections from Madrid, triggered an unprecedented political standoff between Catalonia and Spain. Puigdemont used the yes vote as a base to make a declaration of independence on October 27, prompting Madrid to dismantle his government and the regional chamber, where he made the declaration. Nine other Catalan separatist leaders have also been imprisoned following the failed separatist attempt in the northeastern region.

• NATO member Poland has signed a $4.75-billion deal with the United States to purchase a Patriot missile system amid Moscow’s opposition to any deployment of the US-made system in Eastern Europe near Russia’s borders. Poland signed the largest weapons procurement deal in its history on Wednesday, agreeing to buy Raytheon Co’s Patriot missile system as it seeks to overhaul its army in response to what it calls Moscow’s military and political advance in the region.

Two-thirds of Poland’s military equipment date to the Soviet era. Its armed forces have also suffered from decades of under-investment. ‘It is an extraordinary, historic moment; it is Poland’s introduction into a whole new world of state-of-the-art technology, modern weaponry, and defensive means,’ Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said during the signing ceremony.

The deal is for four Patriot fire units. Warsaw is also negotiating with Washington to buy more Patriot systems, a new 360-degree radar and a low-cost interceptor missile as part of a second phase of development. Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the modern system ‘has proven itself in numerous countries and thanks to which we are joining an elite group of states which have an efficient weapon that guarantees security’.

The Patriot is a mobile missile system designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, low-flying cruise missiles and aircraft. The deal between Washington and Warsaw comes as the US has also been operating its land-based missile system in Romania. Russia has complained about the prospect of the deployment of Patriot missile systems in Poland and Romania, arguing it goes against the 1987 INF Treaty banning the deployment of such systems on the ground.

The INF Treaty was signed between the US and the former Soviet Union on December 8, 1987.

The accord covered deployed and non-deployed ground-based short-range missiles and intermediate-range missiles. The former Soviet Union eliminated 1,846 such missiles, while the US destroyed 846 under the treaty. Russia also says NATO’s military build-up near its borders poses a threat to both regional and international peace.