Catalonia’s Decisive Week for Independence

On Tuesday, Catalan President Puigdemont “declared Catalonia’s independence,” but soon after suspended its effects in favor of dialogue with Spanish authorities. His decision came after numerous international actors suggested that mediation would only be possible if he halted independence as a sign of good faith.

Nevertheless, numerous members of parliament, who were informed about Puigdemont’s decision only 45 minutes before his intervention, expressed their disagreement and threatened to boycott his speech, as well as threatening to break the pro-independence absolute majority in Parliament. They stressed that they had agreed on a different declaration earlier in the day.

To address this alarming situation, President of Parliament Forcadell decided to suspend the plenary for 1 hour. While the disagreements remained, everyone present in the meeting finally accepted Puigdemont’s changes to the speech in order to maintain unity. Additionally, they agreed to hold a ceremony to sign an unofficial declaration of independence in another building after the plenary in order to give more solemnity to the day.

Tens of thousands of people who gathered around the parliament to celebrate the proclamation of the new Catalonian Republic ended up with mixed feelings. At first, when Puigdemont declared independence, they felt very excited, but this turned to disappointment when he suspended its legal effects without setting a deadline a few seconds later.

Most experts saw Puigdemont’s move as a wise one because it served to show the international community that Catalonia is seeking dialogue until the very end, which favours future international recognition of Catalonia as an independent country.

On Wednesday, Spanish PM Rajoy refused Puigdemont’s latest offer of dialogue and activated Article 155, which can be fully implemented a few days after Puigdemont responds to a mandatory request for information as to whether he has declared independence. He was given until Monday to respond; if it is in the affirmative, this period is extended until Thursday, with the option of altering the decision.

With Article 155, Rajoy can suspend Catalonia’s government, intervene in the education system and the police, and even call for an early election while installing technocrats from the central government to rule Catalonia for at least 3 months. In parallel, pro-independence parties and organizations may also be barred from participating in any eventual general election for at least 4 years.

Major pro-independence organizations are preparing a proportionate response to the implementation of the Article 155 and the possible arrest of Catalonia’s President and vice-president, which includes mass protests, and an indefinite general strike. The main idea would be to collapse the Spanish and European economies and eventually force an international intervention/mediation in Catalonia.

The response may be precipitated by Spain this Monday, because the leaders of the two major pro-independence organizations, Cuixart and Sanchez, have been summoned by the Spanish National Court to testify about “sedition charges” (punishable by up to 15 years in prison + a fine). According to some journalists with contacts in the Spanish government, the judges who are hearing these two cases have already made the decision to jail them in order to smash their respective organizations and thus spread fear across Catalonian society.

Against this possible outcome, Cuixart and Sanchez named their replacements on Saturday. In the meantime, pro-independence organizations and parties such as the ANC, Omnium, ERC, CUP, Democrates and several MP’s from the PDECAT have called on Puigdemont to lift the suspension of Catalonia’s declaration of independence and implement its legal effects as soon as next week. If possible before the Spanish implementation of Article 155.They believe there are no longer grounds for mediation or negotiations as equals with Spain, and that the only way to bring about international mediation/negotiations is by formally declaring independence first.

With this in mind, Puigdemont will have to make the most important decision of his life tomorrow morning. He must decide whether to go all-out to respect the will of the Catalonian people and face a prison sentence of up to 15 years or to surrender, refuse to declare independence, and thus comply with the Spanish government’s will.

Whatever Puigdemont’s decision may be in the coming hours, the worsening of the conflict between Catalonia and Spain appears to be inevitable, given that if he surrenders the independence process, millions of Catalans will then feel betrayed, resulting in the radicalization of many who would rise up against the Spanish government in order to defend the newly promised Catalonian Republic.

Perhaps the only thing that can stop this upcoming clash would be Spain’s acceptance of international mediation. Although, I must admit that I do not have much hope of that happening.

 

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The Week that Spain Lost Catalonia

The detention of 15 high-ranking officials and the suspension of the Catalan government, last week by the Spanish government, in order to halt the referendum on independence set for tomorrow appears to have united separatists, federalists, and a significant number of unionists in defense of the vote.

“I have always been opposed to this referendum, because I am a federalist. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalonia in order to humiliate our people is intolerable. That’s the main reason why I have decided to vote, and I will vote “YES” because I do not want to belong to a dictatorship like Turkey any longer. I think that the creation of a new state would give us the chance to build a more fair country and society” said David, a Barcelona citizen.

My family and I have always voted for unionist parties. We like Spain and most of our friends are from Madrid. Nevertheless, the Spanish repression of the Catalans this week is unacceptable. The government has violated the international law and has restricted the freedom of expression in Catalonia. They have raided printing shops, newspapers offices, and forbidden Catalan editors from advertising the referendum. Last week, they suspended our government and detained a number of our democratically elected representatives. Until this week, I was not going to vote in the referendum because I have always been a unionist, but Spain does not give me any other option. I will go to vote “YES” because this is no longer a referendum on independence, it is all about “Democracy” VS “Dictatorship,” said Marta, a Barcelona businesswoman.

The Catalan government has had serious problems in mobilizing the “unionists” for this referendum until the past week. Most of them thought that they could defeat the Catalan President by promoting a boycott of the vote. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalan institutions have changed the situation, and it appears now that the vast majority of unionists are willing to support the referendum, in order to preserve democracy. This could result in a historic turnout that cannot be ignored by the international community.

The constant attacks against Catalonia by the Spanish government have also united separatists, federalists, and several unionist political parties, which are now calling on the people for mass participation in the referendum. Additionally, they are planning a social/labor indefinite general strike starting on October 3rd, in order to collapse the Spanish economy, if Spain does not recognize the results of the vote.

Although the Catalan government has always been committed to carrying out the referendum, there has always been serious doubts about the validation of the results. However, it seems that the latest anti-democratic actions against Catalonia by Spain have already guaranteed the international recognition of the results, whatever they may be.

Spain Assaults the Catalan Government

Spanish militarized police assaulted Catalan government offices and arrested 15 officials on Wednesday in order to stop the October 1st banned referendum. The Catalan president said that this action meant the suspension of Catalonia’s government and the implementation of a state of emergency across the country.

Tens of thousands of protesters crowded outside the Catalan government offices in downtown Barcelona’s tourist district, waving Catalan flags and chanting “Occupying forces out” and “Where is Europe?”.

The Spanish state has by all rights intervened in Catalonia’s government and has established emergency rule,” said President Carles Puigdemont. “We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state,” he said, calling on the Catalans to vote in the referendum to preserve democracy.

Spanish militarized police detained Catalonia’s junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove and 14 high-ranking local officials. The raid targeted numerous regional government departments.

Police confirmed that they were carrying out raids to dismantle the organization of the October 1st referendum.

Despite Spanish police provocations to cause riots, mass protests across Catalonia remained peaceful. Protesters bore banners reading “Democracy” and “Vote to be free”.

The FC Barcelona soccer club said in a statement: “FC Barcelona, in remaining faithful to its historic commitment to the defense of the nation, to democracy, to freedom of speech, and to self-determination, condemns any act that may impede the free exercise of these rights.”

Police efforts to stop the referendum have intensified in recent days as the Catalan government reaffirms its commitment to hold the referendum by any means. A few days ago, President Puigdemont said that he and his administration members were willing to go to prison if necessary. He added that he is not afraid of defending people’s rights.

Over the last few weeks, the Spanish police have raided printer’s shops, newspaper offices private post-delivery companies looking for the necessary material to hold the referendum, instruction manuals for manning voting stations and ballot boxes.

 

1 Million People Attend a Pro-Independence Rally in Barcelona

On Monday, one million pro-independence supporters gathered in Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia, three weeks before the key independence referendum on October 1st.

The city’s streets were flooded with hundreds of thousands of people several hours before the rally organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural was set to begin. According to the organizers, up to 2000 buses from cities all over Catalonia made the journey to the capital.

The rally began at 5.14 PM with one minute’s silence held in remembrance of the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks. Spirits were high as the atmosphere changed from one of anticipation to eager excitement and optimism with hopes for a positive result in the coming referendum.

Four banners with messages of peace, independence and liberty were passed along by the protesters in a show of unity.

Voting has never been a crime,” President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, addressed the crowd of thousands. “In spite of their fears and threats, we have our own laws based on international legislation. The Spanish courts no longer defend the collective interests of the Catalan people… They want to silence democracy.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and representative of the Tunisian Human Rights League Ahmed Galai was also present. A key supporter of Catalan independence, he inspired crowds with his speech stating that “referendum is democracy.” After key speeches made by organizers and pro-independence politicians, crowds began to disperse at around 7 pm.

This year, the annual pro-independence rally was more crucial than ever, since it came in the context of an all-out confrontation between the Spanish and Catalan governments. A few days before the rally was held, the international community said that a low turnout would weaken the legitimacy of the Catalan government‘s disobedience of the Spanish government and Supreme Court in holding the independence referendum set for October 1st.

Nevertheless, the spectacular turn out of 1 million people demanding that the Catalan government hold the referendum, no matter what, appears to have given the necessary legitimacy to the Catalan President to disobey the politicized Spanish Supreme Court and the Spanish government.

After Monday’s mass rally, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said this morning during an interview that he and his government will not accept a hypothetical suspension of their mandate by the Spanish Supreme Court. He added that from now on, he will only follow the Catalan legislation which stipulates that he can only be suspended by the Catalonian people. He also stressed that not only is holding a referendum on independence not illegal, but a right spelled out in the two 1966 UN Conventions on Human Rights which the Spanish Constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land.

Last week, Catalonia’s parliament passed two crucial laws: the law of the referendum, which allows the government to hold the unilateral independence referendum in October, and the law of “transitorietat” that will only be applied if most Catalans vote in favor of the independence in the referendum. This law would serve as a new constitution until the new one is written, approved, and voted via referendum by the Catalonian people.

It is expected that the tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments will grow to limits never before seen in democracy during the days prior to the referendum. The Spanish government will try to prevent the referendum from happening by all means, but, if it is held in the end, the most important indicators for the international community to validate the results will be the turnout, the opinion of the international observers, and the transparency of the process.

Poor Media Coverage of the Barcelona Terror Attack

On Thursday, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, BBC, CBS, The Guardian, and Telecinco’ coverage of the terror attack in Barcelona, in which fourteen people died and a hundred were injured after a van plowed into crowds of tourists in Las Ramblas, appeared to be inaccurate and harmful to the victims.

CBS News, CNN, and FOX News were the first to broadcast videos of the victims bleeding to death, causing trauma for families who discovered through TV that their loved ones had died. These networks also spread falsehoods such as that there was a hostage situation in a restaurant and that numerous fugitive terrorists were carrying long-range weapons through Barcelona’s streets, which caused terror and endangered the ongoing police operation.

Sadly, the same media had already misreported previous terror attacks such as the latest in London and Manchester. This time, however, thousands of people complained about what they saw as a ratings grab. However, the aforementioned media justified their misreporting, suggesting that in the aftermath of a terror attack it is normal that witnesses give them false information because they are confused.

All of this despite the fact that the Catalonian government had enabled numerous communication lines with the press from where it was giving regular updates about the ongoing investigation and the police operation in order to prevent the media misreporting. The government asserted that the only reliable information was what they were providing through the aforementioned channels.

It is also important to highlight that part of the media did a great job by verifying all the information before broadcasting it. The lack of seriousness of some ‘prestigious’ media has as its ultimate goal to grow their audiences regardless of the veracity and the possible negative consequences that their actions may have in the aftermath of a terror attack.

This sort of coverage has raised many questions about the implementation of new restraints on the media; for example, to pixel the faces of victims of terrorism in the aftermath of terror attacks in order to respect their families and prevent these episodes from happening again.

Indeed, if implemented a new regulation should always respect the freedom of the press in all cases. This would only be to protect the victims of terrorism and their families because they deserve to be the first to know how their loved ones are without watching their mutilated bodies on TV.

 

One Year after Turkey’s Failed Coup Attempt, the Purge Continues

One year after the failed coup in Turkey, the situation in the country has worsened significantly and Erdogan has begun a transition from ”democracy” to dictatorship, backed by fanatical supporters willing to die for him.

Taking advantage of this situation, Erdogan has criminalized and jailed all critical voices by linking them to the coup and Fethullah Gülen’s movement, who is considered the coup’s mastermind by Erdogan.

To that end, Erdogan has detained 118,235 people, arrested 55,927, including 269 journalists, sacked 138,148 people, including some 4,424 judges and prosecutors, and around 9,000 teachers, and has also shut down 2,099 schools, dormitories, and universities, and 149 media outlets. The co-leaders of the second-largest opposition party in the Parliament are also in prison.

More recently, Erdogan has detained eight human rights defenders, Amnesty International’s Turkey Director Idil Eser and two international trainers on the absurd suspicion of being members of an ‘armed terrorist organization.’

In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, Erdogan believed he would be able to keep Turkish society united behind his authoritarian project while directing a purge against the opposition and critics.

However, his authoritarian actions, like the rigged constitutional referendum to grant super powers to him in April, and the increasing repression against anyone who criticizes him have divided Turkish society to levels never seen before.

Numerous voices have arisen across the country stating that Erdogan could have directed last year ‘s failed coup attempt against himself to have a pretext to install a dictatorship, extend his mandate, and get rid of the most prominent opposition leaders who could have disputed his leadership of the country.

Erdogan administration has not yet proven the link between Gulen and the failed coup. And Erdogan’s claims that the coup was organized without his knowledge by hundreds of thousands of people during more than a decade is absurd.

Keeping a secret in a small group for years is hard, and it is impossible to do among hundreds of thousands of people, especially while Erdogan was leading the country and had many of his supporters infiltrated in all governmental institutions.

World precedents show that, at first stages, coup d’États are always organized by a small number of people until things are up and running and people see that the coup can succeed. This is then when a large number of people join the project.

Despite the fact that Erdogan is installing a dictatorship and jailing teachers, judges, and journalists on a regular basis, the Western world is still endorsing him and indirectly his actions.

Numerous European leaders have suggested that Merkel keep a “friendly” position with Erdogan due to the fact that the EU and Turkey have an agreement on immigration, which prevents thousands of immigrants and refugees from entering the EU annually. And Erdogan has suggested that he could break this pact, causing a flood of immigration in Europe.

Trump has also venerated and congratulated Erdogan for overweening superpowers in the constitutional referendum in April. Trump, who has also shown to be an authoritarian, speaks the same language as Erdogan. And unless this affects the US, he appears to be willing to allow Erdogan to install a dictatorship in Turkey.

With the endorsement of the Western world, this coming year will be harder than the previous one in Turkey. Erdogan will continue deploying his superpowers, repressing the Turks, firing thousands of teachers, judges, and will continue his purge against the opposition, human rights activists and the independent media.

Unless the international community led by Trump and Merkel take action to stop Erdogan’s authoritarian drift, hundreds of thousands of innocents will soon suffer the devastating consequences of Erdogan’s actions.

Although initially the US and the EU will not help the Turks reinstating democracy in Turkey, the firm determination of the Turkish opposition to challenge Erdogan and bring back democracy to the country will cause tensions, and if as predicted, Erdogan reacts by using force against millions of peaceful people, the US and the EU will have to decide then between allowing this to happen or intervening to return the power back to the Turkish people.

As usual, the future of the Turks will be in Western world’s hands, and perhaps, this time, they will not make the same mistakes made previously in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, by choosing to defend democrats instead of villains.

G20 Summit 2017 Hamburg

As they do every year, the world’s 19 largest economies, plus the EU and various financial institutions, met at the annual G-20 Summit, this year held in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7th and 8th.

This year, all eyes were on Trump, who was seeking to normalize his relations with the EU and Putin. Prior to the meeting, Trump had accused Germany of corruption and undermining the US economy. For her part, Merkel had announced that the US was no longer a German ally. His relationship with Putin has also been deteriorating since the attack against the Syrian government back on April 6. 

Due to various discrepancies between leaders, the summit was not successful. As expected, Merkel and Trump did not reach any agreement. The latter suggested that he will soon implement protectionist measures in the US coal industry which will affect the EU economy. The EU rapidly said that it was ready to retaliate against the US within a few days if Trump ever implements protectionist measures. 

The G20 leaders were not able to convince Trump to rejoin the Paris Climate Change agreement.  The latter ignored their claims and abandoned the climate change meeting before it ended in order to meet Putin on July 7th.

Despite their previous disagreements, Trump and Putin agreed on a partial ceasefire in Southern Syria that began on Sunday. They also agreed on the need of deescalating tensions between them in order to normalize relations and reach future agreements. In the end, they both agreed on continuing their regular talks until their next personal meeting takes place in a close future.

I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” Mr. Tillerson told reporters on Friday night in Hamburg, Germany, after the more than two-hour meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. “And as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and violence once we defeat ISIS, and to work together toward a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.”

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, later said the cease-fire would take effect from midnight to noon local time on Sunday in the areas of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida in Syria along the Jordanian border. “At first, security around this de-escalation zone will be guaranteed by the forces and means of the Russian military police, in coordination with the Americans and Jordanians,” he said.

The G-20 did not reach any agreement on the current refugee crisis. Italy, which is receiving thousands of refugees weekly, demanded a global compromise to solve the problem. However, the rest of the world leaders ignored Italy’s claims and directed their attacks against NGO’s

According to numerous world leaders, NGO’s are promoting immigration instead of helping refugees. For that reason, they discussed tightening the conditions permitting NGO’s to operate in the Mediterranean Sea.

Representatives from several NGO’s said that they are just saving lives and reminded governments that refugees are not immigrants. They are fleeing from war zones in countries such as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan which were caused by the Western world.

As usual, social organizations organized an alternative to the G-20 Summit on July 5th and 6th, the so-called Global Solidarity Summit. This year, thousands of people from all over the world attended the various activities, assemblies, and conferences seeking alternative ways to improve people’s lives worldwide. Most of the conferences were open and people could freely participate and give their point of view regardless of their social status.

As expected, thousands of demonstrators from all over the world gathered in Hamburg in order to disrupt the G-20 summit. However, they were not able to achieve their ultimate goal due to a heavy police presence. Despite the fact that most of them were peaceful, the German police attacked them without justification, leading to serious riots, arrests, and injuries.

As numerous videos show, moments before the so-called “Welcome to Hell” march on was set to begin on July 6, thousands of German police officers rushed the crowd, hitting everyone, including journalists. In the end, the Hamburg police admitted that the “Welcome to Hell” march was peaceful at the time of the attack and only some in the crowd were masked.

The “Welcome to Hell” march was not the only protest which ended in riots. There were many others before, during, and after the summit in various locations around Hamburg. On a few occasions, protesters were able to close off portions of the city for several hours before the German police evicted them.

In the end, the G20 Hamburg Summit will be remembered for the inability of world’s leaders to agree on solving real people’s problems. People will remember instead the decisions made by the wealthiest nations, which will result in thousands of deaths in poor countries.