Spain’s PM to Catalan secessionists: “Stop walking toward the abyss”. Spanish government deploys raft of legal measures to nullify planned October 1 independence referendum. “There will be no referendum on self-determination.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made this unequivocal statement on Thursday afternoon, following an emergency Cabinet meeting to craft the central government’s response to the Catalan secessionists’ latest challenge.
“I am very aware of my obligations and of the gravity of the moment,” said Rajoy at a press conference that began at 2.20pm. “I know what is expected of me. I will not allow our model of social harmony to be liquidated with a single blow. I will do whatever is necessary, without renouncing anything to prevent it.
“It is possible to be pro-independence in Spain. But one cannot walk all over our democratic rules,” the Popular Party (PP) leader continued. “What is not legal is not democratic. Democracy will respond firmly, with assurance and dignity.”
Addressing Catalan authorities, Rajoy urged them to “stop walking toward the abyss.”
On Wednesday, pro-independence parties used their slim majority in the Catalan parliament to approve a law allowing an independence referendum to be held in the region on October 1. The bill passed by 72 votes, after 52 members of the opposition walked out of the 135-seat chamber in protest.
The regional premier of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo (PP), has called this move “the most dire” event to have taken place in Spain “since 23-F,” a reference to the failed coup d’état that took place on February 23, 1981, when armed members of the Civil Guard stormed Congress and held deputies hostage.
Madrid has already lodged an appeal against this law with Spain’s Constitutional Court, and Attorney General José Manuel Maza on Thursday announced that all members of the Catalan government will be prosecuted for signing a referendum-enabling decree shortly after the law got the green light late on Wednesday night. Parliamentary officials who allowed the vote to take place, including Speaker Carme Forcadell, are also facing charges.
The National Police, the Civil Guard and the Catalan law enforcement agency – known as the Mossos d’Esquadra – will receive instructions to “seize effects or tools destined to prepare or to hold the illegal referendum,” said Maza.
The central government has also issued instructions to all 947 mayors across Catalonia not to heed calls to give up public spaces to set up ballot boxes.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, a former housing activist with leftist sympathies, has not yet decided whether to cooperate with the Catalan executive and has relayed the latter’s request to City Hall’s legal department.
Tarragona, a provincial capital, will not offer help with the referendum, local officials said on Thursday. But the mayors of Girona, Sabadell and Badalona have already announced their support on social media.
The Catalan government, which is headed by the pro-independence Junts pel Sí coalition with support from a fringe anti-capitalist party called CUP, has vowed to hold the vote no matter what.
“We’ve transitioned from having money raining down on us to having criminal charges raining down on us,” said Jordi Turull, the Catalan executive’s spokesman. “Calling a referendum is not illegal. We’re going ahead with this.”
Earlier on Thursday, Rajoy met with opposition leader Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), and he is scheduled to sit down with Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera later today to discuss a joint strategy against what all three view as an illegal referendum.
On November 9, 2014 Catalonia held a non-binding independence vote after Spanish courts banned the possibility of holding a referendum. The vote came out in favor of independence, but it was widely viewed as skewed and did not gain international recognition. The Catalan premier at the time, Artur Mas, was tried for disobedience last March and barred from office for two years.
This time around, the Catalan government – now under Carles Puigdemont – has vowed to conduct a real referendum and to declare independence within 48 hours if “Yes” wins by slightly more than 50%, no matter what the turnout.