Catalonia president calls for mediation with Spain over independence dispute

UN human rights chief calls for independent inquiry into violent police crackdown on votes on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 11:20pm

The Catalan president has called for international help in tackling its independence dispute with Spain, saying Europe cannot continue ignoring the issue after almost 900 people were injured during the police crackdown on the referendum.

“The European Commission must encourage international mediation,” Carles Puigdemont said on Monday. “It cannot look the other way any longer.”

At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt on Sunday after riot police stormed polling stations, dragging out voters and firing rubber bullets into crowds.

The European Commission has so far declined to intervene in what it has described as an internal Spanish matter and has urged both sides to “move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue”.

In a statement released earlier on Monday, it said: “Violence can never be an instrument in politics. We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.”

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The police operation was also criticised by the UN high commissioner for human rights, who said he had been “very disturbed” by the violence in Catalonia.

“With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said. “Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary.”

Puigdemont urged the Spanish government to recall the national police and Guardia Civil officers who had been tasked with preventing the referendum from Catalonia. He also announced that his government would created a commission to examine any human rights violations committed.

However, he did not, as many had expected, say that he would declare Catalan independence imminently, as previously promised. On Sunday night Puigdemont had said the referendum results would be put before the regional parliament “where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum”.

Catalonia showdown: ‘hundreds injured’ as police clash with voters in bid to block referendum

A spokesman for the Catalan government said 2.26 million Catalans – 43 per cent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters – took part in the referendum, which was staged in defiance of the Spanish government, the country’s constitutional court and the Catalan high court. The Catalan government had not set a threshold for minimum turnout in the election, arguing the vote would be binding regardless of the level of participation.

Although millions of Catalans managed to cast their ballots on Sunday, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court. The Spanish government defended its response and said the police had been acting to defend the constitution and Spanish democracy.

Rajoy thanked the police for acting with “firmness and serenity” as they attempted to halt the poll. “Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said on Sunday night. “The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.”

The actions of the Spanish authorities were immediately criticised by Catalan politicians. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, demanded an end to police operations and called for Rajoy’s resignation.

Sunday’s violence came less than 24 hours after the Spanish government had appeared confident that enough had been done to stop the vote.

On Saturday, Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said police had sealed off 1,300 of the region’s 2,315 polling stations. Guardia Civil officers acting on a judge’s orders also searched the headquarters of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.

“These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees,” he said.