Spain: No Dialogue Until Catalonia Drops Independence Bid

By CIARAN GILES and ARITZ PARRA

MADRID (AP) — The spokesman for Spain’s government declared Friday that “coexistence is broken” in Catalonia, blaming separatist authorities in the wealthy northeastern region for pushing ahead with their independence bid.

Government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo, who is also the cabinet’s minister of cultural affairs, called on the Catalan regional government to drop its secessionist bid in order to begin a dialogue.

A disputed independence referendum in Catalonia last Sunday has led to Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades, with the national government in Madrid condemning the vote as illegal, unconstitutional and invalid.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont wants to address the regional parliament next week “to discuss the political situation” in Catalonia. That request comes after Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the Catalan parliament session on Monday during which separatist lawmakers wanted to discuss secession.

“In order to dialogue, you must stay within the legal framework,” Mendez de Vigo told reporters on Friday.

The minister also warned Catalans that a parliamentary declaration of independence “is not enough” and that the international community needs to recognize independent nations.

No country has openly said it would support an independent Catalonia and the European Union says it would be kicked out of the bloc and forced to stop using the common euro currency. The EU says Catalonia would have to apply to rejoin, a lengthy, uncertain process.

Puigdemont says the referendum is valid despite a Constitutional Court ban on holding it and the fact that only 40 percent of the region’s 5.5 million eligible voters turned out amid strong police pressure to shut down the vote. Catalan officials say 90 percent of those who cast ballots favored independence.

Puigdemont has asked now to address the regional parliament Tuesday to “report on the current political situation.” Catalan lawmakers were meeting Friday afternoon to discuss the request.

The top Spanish official in Catalonia, Enric Millo, who is in charge of security, said Friday he regretted that hundreds of people were injured Sunday in the police crackdown on the independence vote — the first statement by a Spanish official lamenting the injuries.

“I can only say sorry” for the injuries, Millo told Catalonia’s TV3 television.

He also tempered the apology by saying the Catalan government was responsible for the situation by encouraging people to vote despite the Constitutional Court order suspending the referendum.

Spain has defended police actions, saying there were firm and proportionate. Videos on Sunday saw police yanking voters and others by their hair and kicking and hitting them.

Catalan authorities say about 900 people were treated for injuries during Sunday’s vote, when Spain’s anti-riot squads fired rubber bullets, smashed into polling stations and beat protesters with batons to disperse voters.

The political turmoil has led to unease in Spain’s business sector. Spain’s main stock index was down slightly Friday, with Catalan banks leading losses amid the uncertainty.

Spain’s government approved a decree Friday that would make it easier for Catalan companies to move base out of the region. The move will allow for the relocation of the registration of Caixabank —Spain’s third largest bank in global volume of assets. Caixabank’s board was due to meet in Barcelona on Friday to discuss the issue.

At least half a dozen companies, including the fifth largest lender, Banco Sabadell, have already relocated from Catalonia or agreed to do it.

“It’s very sad what we are seeing,” Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said Friday. “This is the result of an irresponsible policy that is causing uneasiness in the business community.”

In Madrid, Spain’s National Court unconditionally released two senior officers of Catalonia’s regional police force and the leaders of two pro-independence civic groups being investigated for sedition in connection with the referendum. The four are to be questioned again in coming days.

The case is linked to Sept. 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona, when Spanish police arrested several Catalan government officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations.

The four are Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, president of separatist group Omnium Cultural.

After being questioned for about an hour, Trapero left the courthouse to applause by Basque and Catalan party representatives and insults from bystanders.

“I ask strongly that the Spanish government, the national parliament and the head of state (the king) understand that time and the hours are very important to find a debated solution and give way to a political solution,” Sanchez said.

Laplana, who had remained in Barcelona, declined to testify for medical reasons while Cuixart refused to testify, saying he didn’t recognize the court’s capacity to question him for a crime he didn’t commit.

Spanish authorities say the demonstrations hindered the Spanish police operation, and that Catalan police didn’t do enough to push back protesters blocking Spanish police officers from leaving a building.

Carles Campuzano, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Catalonia, described the hearing Friday as an outrage, saying that demonstrations could not be considered illegal.

“It’s just another expression of the absolutely mistaken, authoritarian, repressive response by the (Spanish) state to the pacific, democratic and civic demand of Catalan society,” he told reporters.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Puigdemont to cancel plans for declaring independence in order to avoid “greater evils.”

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Parra reported from Barcelona. Frank Griffiths contributed from London.

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