Conflict Continues In Spain Between Catalan Government And Madrid

Oct 27, 2017
Originally published on October 27, 2017 4:50 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Spain, another day, another step toward independence by the northeastern region of Catalonia and another step toward conflict with the national government in Madrid. In the Catalan capital, Barcelona, the regional Parliament voted to declare independence. That was after opponents of secession had walked out in protest. The declaration was applauded by a crowd of pro-independence demonstrators outside the Parliament building. But in Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a televised speech rejected the Catalan declaration. He fired the Catalan government, dissolved the Catalan Parliament and called a new election for the region on December 21.

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PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

SIEGEL: Rajoy said, "we believe it is urgent to listen to Catalan citizens, all of them, so that they can decide their future and nobody can act outside the law on their behalf." All of them was a reference to those Catalans who did not take part in the independence referendum earlier this month. Independence won easily, but many opponents of secession boycotted that vote.

Well, joining us from Barcelona near the Parliament building is reporter Lucia Benavides. And, Lucia, first, what else did the prime minister announce tonight? And what reactions to it have you heard in Barcelona?

LUCIA BENAVIDES: Yeah, so the prime minister, on top of saying that he would dissolve the entire Catalan government, he called for a snap election as well. He also said that he would replace the supervisor of the local Catalan police force. So that means that the local police force will have to adhere to Spanish control. He said that this is a peaceful and moderate answer to dissolve threats to the democracy. And there are - there's still talk about the Catalan president, Puigdemont, being arrested for rebellion, which would mean up to 30 years in prison.

SIEGEL: Will the Catalan government - say, the chief of police - do we expect them to comply with the order from Madrid and leave office or try to remain in power?

BENAVIDES: We'll still have to see if they're going to try to protest that. Many believe that they are going to, you know, adhere to the calls to dissolve the government because yesterday the Catalan government had actually said that they would dissolve their own government and they would call for snap elections on December 21 if Spain agreed to halt the procedure which would take away the autonomy from Catalonia. Spain said that they would not halt it, and so that's why the Catalan government decided not to dissolve the government and call for a snap election.

So basically the Spanish government is doing now what the Catalan government said they were going to do yesterday. But it had a little bit different dynamic to it because they were doing it on their own instead of doing it under the rule of the Spanish central government.

SIEGEL: You're in downtown Barcelona, where there have been protesters out all day. And it's always a busy city. Do people - do pro-independence Catalans sound more emboldened today after this or somewhat worried given the word from Madrid?

BENAVIDES: There's definitely worry. There's mostly worry that things could get violent. That's what everyone keeps coming back to. There is a lot of people chanting things like libertad in Catalan, which means liberty. I was walking down the street earlier and there was actually a woman who presumably was pro-Spain or anti-independence, and she started screaming very aggressively at a man that was wearing a Catalan flag as a cape. People are very tense right now, whether they're excited or scared or just are - have no idea what's going to happen.

SIEGEL: The top official of the European Union, Donald Tusk, said today that he hoped there'd be no violence. But there's no indication of any change in the European Union's attitude toward Catalonia. Does that deter any of the pro-independence demonstrators whom you talked to when you were covering this story?

BENAVIDES: Yeah, a lot of them are saying - I mean, they really believe that the European Union needs Catalonia because Barcelona is a huge tourist spot. Catalonia is a big economic hub. So their argument is, there's no way the EU is going to let us go. It's not to their convenience to lose such an important region. So there is some hope that as time goes on that maybe the EU will step up and say, what's going on isn't fair and, you know, to show support. But it's hard to know what's going to happen at this point.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. Lucia, thanks for talking with us.

BENAVIDES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.