Catalonia tourism slumps 15% since referendum violence | World news

Tourism to Catalonia has slumped by 15% in the two weeks since the region’s controversial referendum on independence, according to industry experts.

August’s terror attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils, which left 16 people dead, scarcely dented tourist numbers, but images of police violence and huge rallies around the 1 October vote on independence are taking their toll.

There has been no sign of tensions easing between the Catalan and Spanish governments following the vote, which has led to Spain’s biggest political crisis for 40 years, and has seen thousands turn out on the streets for opposing protests for and against the independence movement.

On Thursday, the Spanish government said it would make good on its threat to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s president refused to abandon the push for independence. It plans to hold an emergency meeting on the issue on Saturday.

José Luis Zoreda, vice-president of the tourist association Exceltur, said tourist activity in Catalonia had fallen by 15% in the weeks following the referendum compared to the same period last year.

Catalonia welcomed about 18 million visitors last year, and tourism accounts for about 12% of the region’s GDP, with industry and trade as the other main contributors. More than 400,000 people in Catalonia depend on the tourist industry for employment.

Zoreda added that bookings were “in freefall of around 20% for the last quarter of 2017, especially in Barcelona, in what is normally the high season for conferences, leisure and shopping tourism”, especially among international tourists.

A 20% decline would represent a loss of around €1.1bn, according to Zoreda. Exceltur says this decline is confined to Catalonia and there is no slump in the rest of Spain.

In its statement on Thursday, the Spanish government reiterated its claims that the recent push for Catalan independence was damaging the economy, criticising the regional authorities for “deliberately and systematically seeking institutional confrontation, despite the serious damage it’s causing to coexistence and Catalonia’s economy”.

Earlier this week, Spain downgraded its economic forecast for 2018 as the costs of the crisis begin to mount.

“In a short period of time our hotels have seen rooms cancelled because conferences have been put on hold,” said Alfonso del Poyo, vice-president of Meliá Hoteles Internacional. Meliá has eight hotels in Catalonia, five in Barcelona, and saw reservations fall by 4% after 1 October.

“The situation is very worrying, especially for those who depend on the international market,” Del Poyo said.

Tourists pose for selfies in front of the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona in August

Tourists pose for selfies in front of the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona in August Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

A Barcelona restaurant owner who owns several establishments but who wished to remain anonymous said they had seen a considerable downturn.

“Over the past two weeks bookings have been down 30-40% and people have been cancelling right through to January,” the restaurant owner said. “We employ 350 people and here in Barcelona what we’re facing is an economic tsunami. But when I tell people this they say if I don’t like it I should move to Madrid.”

Barceló Hotels and Resorts, which has three hotels in Barcelona, also noted a drop in reservations but a spokesman for the group said it was “not alarming”.

Barcelona is the cruise capital of the Mediterranean but this month two ships chose to dock in Valencia instead. The city is also one of Europe’s top destinations for conferences but the political situation has led at least one major conference, the European Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, to cancel.

“We’ve certainly seen a slowdown in bookings, as well as some
cancellations, during what is normally one of the busiest times of the year,” said James Blick, co-founder of Devour Tours, which offers food and wine tours throughout Spain.

“Tourists are highly sensitive to any whiff of instability … news headlines, images and videos of police and voter clashes on 1 October were clearly enough to scare a significant number of people away. Happily though, as tourists, we generally have short memories and once stability returns, so does tourism.”

The downturn does not appear to have affected areas outside the region’s main cities. Jordi Urpi, who runs a small hotel in rural Tarragona, says he hasn’t noticed any change. “We’re full up to till the end of October, as always. Fewer bookings during the week, but that’s normal at this time of year, both for local and international clients.”

The online holiday lettings platform Airbnb did not offer any figures but its rival HomeAway said it had not had a significant number of cancellations.

The photograph on this article was changed on 20 October 2017. An earlier image showed a picture of firefighters supporting protestors, but was captioned as being of police restraining Catalans.

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Boost for Hammond as government posts smallest September deficit in decade – as it happened | Business

The deficit is heading in the right direction, helped by increasing revenues from income tax, national insurance and VAT, which underlines how reliant government finances are on UK consumers both earning money, and spending it.

Despite the improving fiscal outlook, we can’t expect too many giveaways in the forthcoming budget. While the deficit is falling, the government still owes an eye-watering amount of money.

What’s more, the imaginary pie of future tax revenues that the chancellor has to play with is expected to be trimmed back significantly, thanks to an adjustment to economic projections made by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Finally there’s also Brexit in the mix, and the unknown effect this will have on the UK economy, and government finances. All of this means the Chancellor’s spreadsheets will tell him he doesn’t have a great deal of room for manoeuvre on Budget day.

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Spanish PM vows to end Catalonia standoff and force region to obey law | World news

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has vowed to return Catalonia to the rule of law as his government prepares to announce unprecedented measures to head off the independence crisis by imposing direct rule from Madrid.

Speaking at the EU summit in Brussels on Friday, a day after he confirmed that article 155 of the Spanish constitution would be invoked to begin the process of suspending key elements of Catalonia’s self-rule, Rajoy said his government had two clear aims.

“The goal is a double one,” he said. “To return to the observance of the law – because you can’t have a part of the country where the law is not obeyed – and, at the same time, to bring about a return to institutional normality.”

Rajoy added that his response had the backing of the Spanish socialist party (PSOE) and the centrist Ciudadanos, or Citizens, party.

The Spanish cabinet is to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to decide the precise nature of its intervention in Catalonia, which, as an autonomous region, controls its own education, healthcare and policing. Its proposals will be put before the Spanish senate next week.

Although Rajoy warns that the Catalan independence issue has reached “a critical point”, his ruling People’s party (PP) says that there is still time for the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to end Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades.

On Friday, Fernando Martínez-Maillo, the PP’s third-in-command, issued another call for Puigdemont to “change course … [and] return to constitutional legality” by abandoning his push for independence before the senate meets.

Martínez-Maillo said the holding of fresh Catalan parliamentary elections, agreed with the Spanish government, would give Puigdemont a way out of the impasse.

A woman and baby walk past Catalan pro-independence posters on a wall on in Barcelona.

A woman and baby walk past Catalan pro-independence posters on a wall on in Barcelona. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

The Catalan government, however, has said it does not view elections as the answer. “What purpose would elections here serve when we’re halfway down the road [to independence]?” the Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, said on Friday.

“We’re not here to hold elections again just so we can have the same mandate we’ve already got.”

The Catalan government insists the results of the unilateral independence referendum held on 1 October give it a clear mandate to forge ahead with the creation of a sovereign republic. It says that 90% of participants in the poll opted for independence on a turnout of about 43%.

Although Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence on 10 October, he has proposed that its effects be suspended for two months while both sides open dialogue aimed at ending the standoff.

The Spanish government, however, has said there can be no discussion until the Catalan president scraps his independence project and obeys the Spanish constitution, which is based on “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”.

On Thursday, as a second deadline expired for the Catalan government to shelve its plans, Puigdemont accused the Spanish authorities of ignoring his appeals for negotiations and repressing the independence movement.

He also warned that the imposition of article 155 could provoke a unilateral declaration of Catalan independence, saying: “If the [Spanish] government persists in hindering dialogue and continues with its repression, the Catalan parliament could, if it deems appropriate, proceed to vote on the formal declaration of independence, which it did not do on 10 October.”

As tensions between Madrid and Barcelona continued to escalate, pro-independence Catalans protested against the decision of some banks to move their official headquarters out of the region by withdrawing symbolic amounts of cash.

By Friday morning, dozens of people were lining up at a CaixaBank branch in central Barcelona, most of them withdrawing €150 or €160 from ATMs in a nod to article 155.

The crisis engulfing Spain has been noted by some of the leaders attending the Brussels summit this week.

A protester poses with an envelope containing €155 after withdrawing that sum from a Banc Sabadell ATM during an independence rally in Barcelona.

A protester poses with an envelope containing €155 after withdrawing that sum from a Banc Sabadell ATM during an independence rally in Barcelona. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

The British prime minister echoed previous remarks made by other European leaders, saying the UK backed the Spanish government’s actions.

“I have spoken to Mariano Rajoy this morning, as I did earlier this week, and made clear that the United Kingdom’s position is very clear,” Theresa May said. “We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution.”

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, gave the Spanish government his “full, entire support” and said extremist forces were “feeding” on separatism as a kind of division within Europe and a creating a “factor of destabilisation”.

On Thursday, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, offered her support to the Spanish government, adding: “We hope there are solutions found on the basis of the Spanish constitution.”

While the Catalan issue was not on the official agenda of the summit – and Rajoy has repeatedly said it is an internal Spanish matter – the Spanish prime minister described the Catalan government’s behaviour as “something that goes directly against the basic principles of the European Union”.

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In Catalonia and Spain we’re all asking: what have we done to deserve this? | Francesc Badia i Dalmases | Opinion

For many years, independence in Catalonia has been portrayed as a happy, low-cost and easy path to a better world. People believed in the promised land of a richer, freer state that would enjoy Scandinavian-style welfare and be admired around the world: like a Denmark of the south, as the former regional president, Artur Mas, used to say.

Much as for the Brexiteers, and for Trump supporters who believed in their leader’s promises, the reality is proving just how illusory that idea was. In Catalonia, as events unfold rapidly, people are starting to realise that the road to independence is rockier than anybody knew and that, at the end of the day, it might turn out to be simply impassable.

The populist component of the pro-independence camp is becoming more and more obvious. Populism proposes simple solutions (in this case, independence) to complex problems (power-sharing in an unevenly decentralised state in times of crisis). Pro-independence leaders create narratives based on historical grievances, and seem trapped in denial of reality. This reality includes strong opposition from the Spanish authorities, banks and corporations, which are moving in a cascade to safer places in Spain, a Catalan population fractured and divided, and nonexistent support from Europe and the international community.

But now it has become apparent that the “suspended declaration” of the Catalan republic at the regional parliament on 10 October was a mistake. This week’s exchange of letters between the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has proved to be sterile, if not surreal, and we are entering uncharted waters. On the one hand, there is the prospect of a vote in parliament for a “unilateral declaration of independence”; on the other is the menace of triggering article 155 of the constitution, which means taking back the region’s devolved powers.

The feeling in Barcelona is that the harm has already been done, and that things will get worse before they get better. The chain of errors on both sides has proved so toxic that people in the city are starting to feel the consequences in their daily lives. The emotional part of the current conflict overwhelms any rational discussion.

For a city like ours – which used to have a joyful, easygoing, tourist-friendly atmosphere – the sight of anxiety on the streets, of repeated massive peaceful demonstrations turned into angry protests, and of police helicopters constantly flying over our heads, may prove too much. Only two months after the devastating terrorist attack on the jolly Ramblas, when a van ploughed into a crowd, killing 16 and injuring 100, it seems like even the Sagrada Familia has lost its power to charm.

Barcelona protests

‘Jailing two prominent activists has just given the pro-independence movement more ammunition – and “political prisoners” to fight for.’ Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

The general feeling among Spaniards and Catalans alike is that they don’t deserve all this. They were just about to come out of the deepest recession in a generation, one that had caused a major social and political crisis. The country’s GDP has been growing solidly over the past two years, and some of that growth was finally filtering down to the regular shopper. But now we have to deal with a monumental constitutional crisis. Now, how irresponsible is that?

Politicians are there to solve old problems, not to create new ones. Inaction on the side of the Spanish government (concerned only with making sure the economy picks up, and with its own political survival) and a ramping up on the side of the Catalan administration (focused only on delivering their particular road map to improbable independence) have left the country in tatters.

Over the next few days, the major challenge will be how to deal with the “permanent mobilisation” set in motion by diehard nationalists and a Catalan government hijacked by the anti-system, anarchist-inspired CUP party, which wants to defend the newly born republic on the streets. And the biggest challenge of all will be how to prevent this situation from bursting into violence.

Pro-independence activists are proud of their capacity to bring hundreds of thousands on to the streets simply by sending a couple of tweets and instructions through WhatsApp groups. Their latest achievement was Tuesday’s protest at the detention and imprisonment of the leaders of the two major pro-independence organisations, disproportionately accused of sedition.

Again, using the judicial instruments to deal with this political problem has proved foolish, and jailing these two prominent activists gives the pro-independence movement more ammunition, fuelling its anger and haste to leave. After all, it now has “political prisoners” to fight for. After the use of violence by riot police trying to prevent the referendum from happening (overblown by some media, as Peter Preston pointed out in this newspaper), these detentions are yet another huge miscalculation by the administration.

A strategy of copying a Ukraine-style Maidan protest has been on the agenda for months, and there is already some talk of the “Ulsterisation” of the conflict. A manipulative video entitled “Help Catalonia”, similar to one released during Kiev’s Maidan square crisis, is the last example of the wish to escalate and internationalise the conflict.

Dealing with a major crisis always requires buying time. The gesture of a last-minute meeting between Spanish and Catalan government officials to agree on freezing both the declaration of independence and the triggering of article 155 would contribute to the de-escalation of a clash that risks ruining long-term Spanish efforts to build a free and open society – a reality that, not long ago, seemed so successful.

Francesc Badia i Dalmases is the editor of DemocraciaAbierta, an international affairs expert, author and political analyst. His most recent book is Order and Disorder in the 21st Century

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Tourist killed by falling masonry in famous Florence church | World news

A 52-year-old tourist from Spain has been killed by falling masonry in one of Florence’s most famous churches, the Basilica di Santa Croce.

The fatal accident at the church where Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei and Niccolo Machiavelli are buried raised questions about the state of Italy’s many ageing and fragile monuments.

The country’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, speaking from New York, said prosecutors would conduct an investigation to determine whether faulty maintenance was to blame.

The victim was struck by a piece of decorative stone that fell from a height of 20 metres (66ft) as he visited the church with his wife. According to Italian media reports, the fragment was about 15cm x 15cm (6in x 6in).

The 15th-century basilica, which has a famed neo-gothic facade, has been undergoing years of maintenance in collaboration with Italy’s civil protection agency, Irena Sanesi, the head of the organisation that manages the church, told the Italian news agency Ansa.

“We are really astonished at what has happened, and we ask ourselves how it could happen,” she said.

Authorities were checking the stability of the church, which is expected to remain closed to visitors indefinitely.

Other deadly incidents involving Italian monuments include the 1989 collapse of a 14th-century bell tower in the northern city of Pavia, in which four people died. The cause of the accident has never been determined.

A toddler and a 30-year-old were seriously injured in July when plaster fell from the ceiling of the Acireale Cathedral in Sicily during a wedding.

In October 2012, a cornice fell from the wall of the royal palace of Casertanear Naples causing part of the roof to cave in just a few feet from tourists. No one was injured.

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Tesco stocks green satsumas in drive to reduce food waste | Business

Tesco has started selling “green” satsumas and clementines after relaxing its quality specifications in its latest attempt to reduce food waste.

The flesh inside is orange, ripe and edible, but as a result of recent warm weather in Spain the skins have failed to turn the normal colour.

By selling the so-called easy-peelers with green skins that resemble limes, the supermarket says it will slash food waste by giving them up to two days’ extra shelf life.

Green satsumas are already in the shops and clementines – a Christmas favourite – will follow shortly. Tesco claims to be the first supermarket to relax the rules on this type of fruit.

“At the moment green easy-peelers fall outside of the general quality specifications set by UK supermarkets but Tesco has made the leading move in order to cut down on food waste,” said Tesco’s citrus buyer, Debbie Lombaard.

“As a result of this move to take out a handling stage in the journey from farm to fork shoppers will gain extra freshness for their satsumas and clementines.”

To accelerate the colouring process, Spanish growers in the Valencia region have been putting the easy-peelers into a ripening room, but this extra handling has led to a small amount of fruit being damaged and going to waste.

Satsumas and other easy-peelers, as well as oranges, initially grow as a green fruit but turn orange as nights cool.

Over the past few years warmer Spanish temperatures in the early growing season for satsumas in September and October have remained higher into the autumn, delaying the natural process by which the fruit turns orange.

Green satsumas on a tree.

Tesco says the green satsumas will help reduce food waste. Photograph: Alamy

Tesco’s “perfectly ripe early season satsumas” come in a 600g net bag and cost the same (£1) as conventional orange-coloured ones. Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, sells nearly 15m 600g bags of satsumas and 75m bags of clementines each year.

Supermarkets have been criticised for contributing to the UK’s food waste mountain by sticking rigidly to quality specifications, and routinely rejecting “ugly” or mis-shapen, but edible, fruit and vegetables grown by suppliers.

Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have helped drive a campaign to encourage consumers to be less obsessed with perfection, and for supermarkets to relax their rules to sell more “wonky” carrots and other odd-looking vegetables and fruit.

Last month, Tesco announced plans to join forces with suppliers to tackle global food waste. It has widened other quality specifications to take more of farmers’ crops, most recently with British-grown apples.

The changeable weather in Spain has been a challenge for supermarkets stocking salads and vegetables out of season in the UK. Earlier this year they were forced to ration lettuce and courgettes after snowstorms in Spain ravaged crops.

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Catalonia: what next for the independence movement? | World news

A little more than two weeks after the Catalan independence referendum, which plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in 40 years, the Madrid government is preparing to take the unprecedented step of suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy and imposing direct rule.


Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has repeatedly warned the Catalan government that its unilateral bid for independence is illegal and unconstitutional. He has given the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, until Thursday morning to abandon his secession campaign and return to “constitutional order”.

How likely is that to happen?

Not likely at all. Puigdemont insists the referendum has given his government a mandate to create a sovereign republic. He has said he will suspend his plans for two months to allow for dialogue, but is adamant that the region will become independent.

How would the Spanish government take control of Catalonia?

By invoking article 155 of the country’s 1978 constitution. The measure, which has never been used, states: “If a self-governing community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the government, after having lodged a complaint with the president of the self-governing community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the senate, take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.”

In other words, if Puigdemont fails to fall into line, the Spanish government will submit its proposals to the senate for debate and approval. As such, article 155’s effects will not kick in for a while.

What will the Spanish government actually do?

Earlier this week, a senior government spokesman said 155’s provisions would be applied judiciously.

“Article 155 is not designed to remove Catalonia’s autonomy but to ensure that its autonomy exists within the law,” he said. “We have envisaged a range of scenarios and will apply 155 accordingly. It’s not a question of applying it in its entirety or of taking over every government function or department. Clearly the Catalan government would lose many of its powers, though not all. It’s a case of using a scalpel, not an axe.”

The spokesman said one measure under consideration would be closing Catalonia’s overseas delegations or “embassies”.

More dramatically, Rajoy could use the article to call new regional elections in the hope that they provide an administration more amenable to remaining in Spain. It could, however, backfire if the separatist politicians find themselves returned to office with an increased share of the vote.

The current Catalan government is made up of a coalition of pro-independence parties that took 47% of the vote in 2015 elections, which were billed as a de facto referendum on independence.

What does the Catalan government say?

It argues the Spanish government has already in effect activated article 155 by intervening in the region’s finances and sending thousands of Guardia Civil and national police officers to Catalonia.

Towards the end of last month, Puigdemont accused Rajoy’s government of a de facto suspension of regional autonomy and a de facto declaration of a state of emergency after Spanish police raided Catalan government offices and arrested 14 officials as part of an unsuccessful attempt to stop the referendum.

How will pro-independence Catalans react?

Puigdemont could attempt to pre-empt the Spanish government by making an unequivocal unilateral declaration of independence and opting to call elections in the hope of capitalising on the anger towards the Spanish authorities. However, the region’s foreign minister, Raül Romeva, appeared to rule out the possibility on Wednesday, saying: “Elections from our perspective are not an option.”

Tensions in the region are still running high after the police violence that marred the referendum on 1 October and a judge’s decision to deny bail to two Catalan independence leaders accused of sedition. Add to that the continuing presence of Guardia Civil and national police officers and the situation looks fraught.

But it is worth remembering that the pro-independence strikes and demonstrations held so far have been almost overwhelmingly peaceful affairs. If some Catalan separatists decided to push back against 155, they would probably do so by going on strike or by forming human chains around key regional government buildings.

Much could also depend on the reaction of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Spanish police unions have accused the Mossos of failing to do enough to prevent the referendum and the head of the force, Josep Lluís Trapero, is also being investigated for alleged sedition.

Will the application of article 155 bring an end to the crisis?

Extremely doubtful. The Catalan independence effort has acquired momentum over recent years and most campaigners say they are in it for the long haul. Similarly, the Spanish government can’t afford to back down when it comes to such a direct challenge to national and territorial unity.

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Spain ready to impose direct rule on Catalonia on eve of deadline | World news

Spain is set to enter uncharted political territory as the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, prepares to carry out his threat to halt the regional Catalan government’s push for independence by imposing direct rule from Madrid.

Last week, Rajoy warned the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, that he had until 10am on Thursday to abandon his secession plans and return the region to “constitutional order”.

Failure to do so, he said, would result in the Spanish government taking the unprecedented step of invoking article 155 of the country’s post-Franco constitution and assuming control of the region.

The unilateral Catalan independence referendum held on 1 October has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago.

Although Puigdemont has claimed that the poll – in which 90% of participants opted for independence – has given his government the mandate to forge a sovereign state, he has ignored Rajoy’s demand to clarify whether or not independence has actually been declared.

He has instead proposed that the effects of an independence declaration be suspended for two months while both sides embark on dialogue to resolve the standoff.

On Wednesday, the Spanish prime minister issued a last-minute call for Puigdemont to calm the situation and act in the interests of all Spaniards and Catalans.

Speaking in parliament, Rajoy asked Puigdemont’s colleagues to persuade him “not to make any more problems” that would “oblige the government to make decisions that would be better never to make”.

There was also speculation that the Catalan government might try to avoid the triggering of article 155 by calling new regional elections. However, the Catalan foreign minister, Raül Romeva, insisted such a move was not being considered, telling reporters in Brussels: “Elections from our perspective are not an option.”

Tensions in the already fraught impasse rose further earlier this week after a judge at Spain’s national court denied bail to two prominent Catalan independence leaders who are being investigated for alleged sedition.

Jordi Sánchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural, are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers following a judge’s orders to halt the referendum.

Their detention prompted huge protests across Catalonia on Tuesday. On the same day, Spain’s constitutional court announced that it had annulled the Catalan law that had paved the way for the referendum, adding that the right to “promote and enact the unilateral secession” of a part of the country was not recognised in the Spanish constitution.

About 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters – 43% – took part in the referendum. According to the Catalan government, 770,000 votes were lost after Spanish police stepped in to try to halt the vote.

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Catalonia: detention of secessionist leaders sparks large protests | World news

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Catalonia to protest against a judge’s decision to detain two prominent pro-independence leaders, as tensions between the Madrid and Barcelona governments continue to rise.

On Monday night, Spain’s national court denied bail to Jordi Sánchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural. Both men are being investigated for alleged sedition in the run-up to the regional independence referendum two weeks ago.

Sánchez and Cuixart are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers following a judge’s orders to halt the independence referendum that had already been suspended by the country’s constitutional court.


The Spanish government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the country’s 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended the referendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament in September, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

In March this year, the former Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, quickly denounced the move and described both men as “political prisoners”.

“Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations,” he tweeted on Monday night. “Sadly, we have political prisoners again.”

The following day, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, tweeted: “Catalonia has woken up saddened and worried today. The imprisonment of [Sánchez and Cuixart] is a threat to everyone’s rights and freedoms.”

Thousands of people crowded into the Plaça Sant Jaume in the Catalan capital at midday on Tuesday to demonstrate against the ruling. Similar demonstrations were held in Tarragona, Lleida and Girona.

About 500 students abandoned their classrooms in one of Barcelona’s main universities to join the demonstrations.

On Monday night police said around 200,000 people gathered in Barcelona for a candlelit vigil, filling a vast stretch of Diagonal, the six-lane thoroughfare that cuts across the city.

“We want our own state and if we have to wait, we will,” said Pere Robles, who was among the huge crowd at the junction of Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal. “Here in Catalonia we survived 40 years under Franco and we continued to be Catalonia. We’ll put up with whatever we have to put up with and we have to keep fighting.”

Thousands protest over arrest of two Catalan leaders – video

“Despite all the pressure from Madrid I think we’ll end up talking because this
isn’t going to stop, people aren’t going to give up,” said Salvador Prieto, who
is pro-independence.

“This is a very rightwing government, which I think will even ban political parties. Everything Rajoy does creates more secessionists. Listen, what a lot of people don’t realise is Rajoy is the independence movement’s mole,” Preitor added with a wink. “We slipped him into the government to make sure we get independence.”

His wife, Esther, said she wasn’t pro-independence but had come to the rally in defence of democracy. “I don’t feel the same as him, I don’t feel a need for independence but we have to defend our rights. Rajoy’s government is a disaster.”

The protests came as the constitutional court announced that it had annulled the Catalan law that had paved the way for the referendum.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the court said its 12 judges had unanimously declared the referendum law unconstitutional, adding that the right to “promote and enact the unilateral secession” of a part of the country was not recognised in the Spanish constitution.

Despite Puigdemont’s assertion that the detentions were politically motivated, the Spanish government’s senior representative in Barcelona said the judge’s decision had been made independently.

“There is a separation of powers here,” Enric Millo told Catalunya Radio.

The view was echoed by Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catalá. “We can talk of politicians in prison but not political prisoners,” he told reporters. “These are not political prisoners because yesterday’s prison ruling was due to an [alleged] crime.”

On 20 and 21 September, police raided Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials in an attempt to head off the vote. The raids brought thousands of Catalans out to protest. Guardia Civil officers found themselves trapped inside the buildings they were searching and three of their vehicles were vandalised.

In her ruling, Judge Carmen Lamela said the events of 20 and 21 September “did not constitute an isolated, casual or peacefully convened civic protest against police actions carried out on a judge’s orders. On the contrary, the activities already described were part of a complex strategy in which Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez have been involved for a long time as part of a roadmap designed to bring about Catalan independence.”

Lamela said that both Sánchez and Cuixart had directed the crowds, with the former telling them: “No one should go home. It’s going to be a long and intense night.” At one point, the two leaders stood on the roof of a Guardia Civil car and called for “permanent mobilisation” to make sure the referendum went ahead.

One of the reasons the judge denied them bail was “because of the high likelihood that the two men under investigation could go about hiding, altering or destroying sources of evidence”.

However, the court decided that Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police force – who is also being investigated for sedition – could remain free as long as he surrendered his passport, stayed in Spain and kept in regular contact with the court.

Under Spanish law, sedition is classified as using “force or illegal means to prevent the application of the law, the legitimate exercise of the functions of public authorities or the observance of administrative or judicial decisions”. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Josep Lluís Trapero, centre, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police force, returns to the High Court following a break in proceedings in Madrid.

Josep Lluís Trapero, centre, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police force, returns to the high court following a break in proceedings in Madrid. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

The Catalan government says hundreds of people were hurt when Spanish police officers used force in an attempt to stop the referendum going ahead on 1 October.

Its push for independence has pitched Spain into its worst political crisis in four decades and seen many large companies leave the region amid the economic uncertainty.

Puigdemont has refused to clarify whether he declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, instead repeating his calls for negotiations with the Madrid government.

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has given Puigdemont until Thursday morning to drop his independence plans or face the suspension of regional autonomy and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

But the Catalan government is refusing to budge. “Giving up isn’t an option that’s being considered,” a spokesman said on Tuesday. “On Thursday, we won’t give anything different than what we gave on Monday.”

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Madrid jails Catalan separatist leaders pending investigation | World news

Spain has signalled a hardening line over Catalonia by jailing the leaders of two of the largest separatist organisations in a move seen as taking Madrid closer to imposing central rule over Catalonia.

In the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum, the court ordered the heads of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and independence group Omnium to be held without bail pending an investigation for alleged sedition.

Prosecutors said that the ANC’s Jordi Sànchez and Omnium’s Jordi Cuixart played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles.

Around 200 people flocked to the Catalan government’s headquarters in Barcelona on Monday in a peaceful show of support for both men, with some chanting “Freedom” and waving “Democracy” banners.

The ANC, which has organised protests of hundreds of thousands of secessionists in the past, called for further peaceful demonstrations around Catalonia on Tuesday.

The Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, commented on Twitter: “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again” – an allusion to Spain’s military dictatorship under Francisco Franco.

The high court also banned the Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, from leaving Spain and seized his passport while he is being investigated over the same incident, though it did not order his arrest.

Last Tuesday, Puigdemont stepped back from asking the Catalan parliament to vote on independence, instead making a symbolic declaration and calling for negotiations on the region’s future.

In a confrontation viewed with mounting alarm in European capitals and financial markets, Puigdemont failed on Monday to respond to Madrid’s ultimatum to clarify whether he had declared unilateral independence in a speech last week. He now has until Thursday to back down.

In a letter to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont gave no direct answer on the independence issue, instead making a “sincere and honest” offer of dialogue over the next two months.

In reply, Rajoy said Puigdemont’s stance had brought Madrid closer to triggering article 155 of the constitution, under which it can impose direct rule on any of the country’s 17 autonomous communities if they break the law.

The Catalan government’s campaign to break away from Spain has pitched the country into its worst political crisis since an abortive coup attempt in 1981.

On Monday the economy ministry told the European Union that it had slashed its economic growth forecasts for next year partly due to the situation.

The Catalan government says 90% of voters in the referendum backed a breakaway, but turnout was only 43% as most opponents of independence in the region boycotted the vote, already declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

Thousands have demonstrated in Barcelona and other Spanish cities both for and against independence. So far the crisis has been largely violence-free, except for the day of the referendum when national police assaulted voters with batons and rubber bullets.

The high court ruled that Trapero, the Catalan police chief, would have his passport withdrawn but rejected a request from the state prosecutor for him to be held in custody.

Trapero is a hero to the secessionists after his force took a much softer stance than national police in enforcing the ban on the referendum. Prosecutors say he failed to give orders to rescue national police trapped inside the Barcelona building.

Puigdemont last Tuesday delayed by several weeks a formal declaration of independence from Spain to allow for talks.

Madrid has ruled out talks unless Puigdemont gives up the independence demand. It had given him until 10am (8am GMT) on Monday to clarify his position and until Thursday to change his mind if he insisted on a split. Following his failure to do so, a regional broadcaster said he also planned to ignore a final deadline on Thursday.

Suggesting that Puigdemont and his team were in no mood to follow Rajoy’s game plan, Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn said article 155 would not allow Madrid to remove members of the Catalan government.

The article’s terms on direct rule, which has never been applied, are vague. It says Madrid can “adopt any measure” to force a region to meet its constitutional obligations, with the approval of Spain’s lower house. The wording suggests this could include anything from taking control of regional police and finances to installing a new governing team or calling a snap election.

Underlining the deepening crisis, some of the largest companies in prosperous Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy, have already shifted head offices elsewhere and others are likely to follow if Puigdemont declares outright independence.

Investors said a political split could undermine the economic rebound in Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

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