Deposed Catalan Leader Puigdemont Faces Imminent Arrest as he Continues to Defy Madrid
Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader who has been ousted by the Spanish government, faces imminent arrest after he continued to defy Madrid by standing by the declaration of independence he led in Catalonia’s parliament.
Mr Puigdemont could face more than 30 years in prison and sources from the Spanish public prosecutor’s office said they would demand that he be remanded in custody as soon as he is arrested.
Spain’s prosecution service was already preparing accusations of rebellion and misuse of public funds against Mr Puigdemont for going ahead with an illegal referendum on independence for Catalonia, held on October 1 amid scenes of police violence against hundreds of voters.
Friday’s declaration of independence in Catalonia’s parliament made Mr Puigdemont’s arrest a possibility. His fellow government members and the speaker of the house, Teresa Forcadell, are also at risk for permitting the vote to go ahead.
In a televised address Saturday afternoon, hours after he was officially dismissed by government decree under emergency powers granted to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Mr Puigdemont raised the stakes again by asking Catalans “to defend our conquests” through the use of mass civil disobedience.
Ignoring the fact that he had been formally dismissed from his post, Mr Puigdemont said: “We cannot and do not want to win through force. Not us.”
Catalan activists are preparing to defend the declaration of independence, despite the fact that the international community has snubbed the declaration.
The Spanish government on Saturday appeared to have gained the upper hand in a standoff with the Catalonian government by taking swift and what it hopes will prove decisive action as pro-union sentiment grows.
Its manoeuvres against Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence represent the first time that Mr Rajoy has directly confronted the Catalonian leadership rather than relying on the courts and police to rein it in.
The decisions agreed by Mr Rajoy’s cabinet on Friday evening, to use special powers granted to the government by Spain’s senate to remove Carles Puigdemont as leader of the Catalan government along with all of his ministers, came into effect in the early hours of Saturday, effectively undoing the declaration of a republic that had lasted only half a day.
In all, at least 150 officials and their appointed aides were stripped of their jobs by the measures. Diplocat, Catalonia’s network of foreign ‘ambassadors’ that has long raised hackles with the administration in Madrid, was another casualty of Spain's measures.
Juan Ignacio Zoído, Spain’s interior minister and now in charge of security in Catalonia, moved to replace the chief of the regional police force, Josep Lluís Trapero. The reason given for removing him as the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra force was Major Trapero’s “legal situation”, given that the former police chief is one step away from being charged with sedition for his role in allegedly allowing the illegal October 1 referendum to go ahead.
The morning after the declaration of independence in Catalonia, confusion reigned on the streets of Barcelona as to what regime was in power.
“The question is who's in charge?" said Manolo, who did not wish to give his surname.
Others wondered what comes next. "They've fired the president and now they're telling us to hold elections. How can we have elections because Madrid orders them?" wondered 46-year-old Mireia Garcia.
Catalonia’s pro-independence parties have to decide quickly whether and how they will take part in the snap ballot called for December 21 by Mr Rajoy.
The far-left CUP party has already said it will boycott the elections as it no longer recognises Madrid’s authority, and other independence parties are considering whether they will make the same decision. “We will have a massive rebel paella,” said CUP parliamentarian Mireia Boya, in a jocular reference to the elections being called for a Thursday, a traditional paella day, rather than the usual Sunday.
The possibility of a boycott by pro-independence parties was seen as real enough by former Catalonian leader, Artur Mas, who this week said it would be “lethal” to the sovereignty movement.
The independence movement only enjoyed a slight majority in Catalonia's parliament, and some activists fear a boycott will mean a comfortable majority for pro-Madrid parties come December.
Seemingly exhausted by weeks of decision making over whether and how to proclaim independence, Mr Puigdemont’s televised statement on Saturday expressed determination but gave no details on what the ousted Catalan government plans to do in the coming weeks.