Over 40,000 Catalans Protest Detentions, Demand Independence

Adria Alsina, an organizer of the demonstrations, said protesters intend to keep up the pressure until all prisoners are released.

Over 40,000 Catalans have heeded the call by civilian groups to protest the arrest of 14 activists, including high-ranking regional officials. They are gathered in front of a regional court to show their disapproval of the detainments and reiterate their quest for independence from Spain.

RELATED: Spanish Govt. Raids Catalan Ministries, Arrests 12 Officials

The detainments were authorized by Madrid in an effort to deter the Oct. 1 referendum vote to determine if the autonomous province of Catalonia will separate from Spain and become its own sovereign nation.

Adria Alsina, a leader of the demonstrations, said protesters intend to keep up the pressure until all prisoners are released.

Although no major incidents are being reported, three Spanish Civil Guard vehicles, the same kind that carried out several of the arrests of sovereignty activists, have been damaged amid demonstrations.

Altercations broke out in Barcelona and other Catalan cities on the eve of the arrests.

In related developments, Catalonia has invested some US$21 million to beef up its regional tax agency, according to Reuters. This is part and parcel of the autonomous region's bid for independence.

“In a future transition, it would not be acceptable for them (Madrid) to keep our taxes, because they are ours and they keep a lot," Catalan Treasury Secretary Josep Lluis Salvado said.

The tax agency increase, which includes an expansion of personnel by 75 percent, signals one of Catalonia's most palpable institutional investments for a people on the brink of attaining their independence.

Carlos Puigdemont, Catalonia's pro-independence president, has said the autonomous region's independence referendum is a moment for his compatriots to “express our will as a people, remembering the past, where we come from, but also to project ourselves into the future.”

RELATED: Barcelona Hosts Mass Rally for Catalan Independence

He added that the push to become a sovereign nation is “a future that we have in our hands and that we will democratically decide really soon."

Catalonia’s regional government has vowed to declare independence from Spain within 48 hours if the “yes” vote wins.

Countering Catalonia's bold step is Spain's conservative government headed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who insists that actions taken by the autonomous community are in direct violation of the nation's constitution. He has vowed that “there will not be a referendum.”

Located in the northeast of the country, Catalonia is recognized as one of Spain's most prosperous regions, not only economically but culturally. Residents have also been able to maintain their national language, Catalan. Apart from these aspects, which have historically fed into the independence movement, residents of Barcelona say they pay exorbitant taxes to Madrid and don't receive their worth back in services.

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Catalonia sets independence referendum date, Spain seeks to press criminal charges

The Catalan parliament has greenlit a referendum on the region's secession from Spain, to be held on October 1. It followed a fierce, hours-long debate on Wednesday. Madrid denounced the move, threatening to bring criminal charges against the region’s authorities.

 
© Albert Gea

The so-called “transition bill,” designed to serve as the constitution of a sovereign Catalan state during the transition period, was championed by the pro-independence ruling coalition that submitted the motion late August. The legislation envisions the legal framework that will pave the way for a constituent assembly, tasked with laying groundwork for a brand-new Catalan Republic.

The idea, however, did not find favor with many of the local deputies, who were staunch opponents of the legislation during a gruelling 11-hour session preceding its eventual approval by 72 MPs loyal to the region's separatist government, as 52 opposition deputies of the 135-member legislature left the room in defiance.

Predictably, the outcome of the vote did not sit well with the federal Spanish government. Madrid has vowed to employ all legal means at their disposal to stop the plebiscite from going ahead, and to punish lawmakers for neglecting earlier court rulings proscribing such legislation.

READ MORE: Catalonia sets date for landmark vote on independence from Spain

 
People react at an impromptu memorial a day after a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain August 18, 2017 © Susana Vera

Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, announced that the government is contesting the newly adopted legislation in the country’s constitutional court, arguing for it to be declared null and void.

“What is happening in the Catalan parliament is embarrassing, it’s shameful,” de Santamaria told journalists on Wednesday, reacting to the vote, as cited by Reuters.

On Thursday, Spain’s state Prosecutor-General Jose Manuel Maza announced his office will pursue criminal charges against members of the Catalan government and the parliament for passing the law. Maza noted the charges will be presented shortly to the Catalan High Court of Justice.

Maza told reporters he had requested the security forces to investigate any move to prepare or hold the referendum.

After reading out prepared notes, the prosecutor-general said they will “continue to act with firmness, proportionality, celerity and full subjection to legality to guarantee our constitutional framework,” according to La Vanguardia.

While the vote was a success for the Catalan elite, recent polls indicate that support for the independence cause among the local public is wearing thin.

According to a June poll, prepared by The Center for Opinion Studies, only 41.1 percent of Catalans favor independence from Spain, a decrease of over 3 percentage points compared with an earlier poll conducted in March. At the same time, the number of those who do not want to part ways with Spain reached 49.4 percent, slightly higher than in March.

Separatist sentiment in Catalonia traditionally runs high, and from time to time becomes the driving force behind massive pro-independence rallies attended by tens of thousands of people. In 2014, the region staged an informal vote on independence, during which some 80 percent voted to split from Spain. However, the vote had a poor turnout: only about a third of the region’s voters came to the polls.

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Madrid Woos Catalonia with Constitutional Reform Debate

The question of division of responsibilities comes at a particularly critical moment as the Catalan elections approach at the end of September.

Spain’s constitution could be given an overhaul as the ruling People’s Party debate whether to redefine the responsibilities of the state.

Speaking to Europa Press, Justice Minister Rafael Catala said that he was in favor of resetting the state’s and autonomous communities delimitations, contrary to the wishes of President Mariano Rajoy, who has wanted to avoid the reform in his administration.

The move comes at a critical moment, as Catalans prepare to vote in an independence referendum Sept. 27, leading Catalan commentators to conclude that the possibility of constitutional change and redivision of responsibilties is an attempt to pacify the separatists.

“That reform could be an open door to attract Catalonia to a constitutional consensus, after the 27-S elections,” wrote Carmen del Riego in Catalan newpaper La Vanguardia.

Another focus of the constitutional change, according to Catala, is the urgent need to improve the sexist system of succession in the monarchy, and the impunity that the royal family enjoys.

“The autonomous state could be defined better,” the minister said. “What could be defined better are the limitations of the state and those of the autonomous communities.”

“We could take advantage of 37 years of experience to see how the mechanisms of coordination and cooperation are reinforced. I think it is possible,” he added.

The PP has, until now, rejected any constitutional reform.

Catalonia, home to 7.5 million people and accounts for a fifth of Spain's output, has fought for hundreds of years for independence. At the beginning of the week, Catalan President Artur Mas signed a decree calling for a plebiscite over the cessation for Sept. 27, which if successful, could see the north-eastern region separating from Madrid within 18 months.

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Spanish Court Suspends Catalonia Referendum

“The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday of the Catalan region's call for an independence. “Any attempt to dissolve it is radically contrary to the Constitution.”
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