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.

 

Yemen: The Forgotten Conflict

Since Yemen’s civil war began in 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has regularly conducted lethal air strikes throughout the country, killing thousands of innocent Yemenis. Further, Saudi Arabia has implemented a blockade of basic supplies against Yemen, including drinkable water, resulting in rampant cholera, leading to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition was initially created seeking to support the deposed President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, after the Houthi rebels had taken key positions all across the country, including the capital Sana’a and his Presidential palace, forcing him to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has justified its lethal attacks on civilians by accusing the Houthis, without any evidence, of being endorsed by its arch-enemies, Iran and Hezbollah.

According to the UN, the Saudi-led coalition regularly kills innocent people, including children. For example, a Saudi air strike killed 140 people and injured some 600 mourners at a funeral in Sana’a last October.

The United Nations’ World Health Organization has reported that the outbreak of cholera in Yemen caused by the Saudi blockade of drinking water has already infected more than 300,000 Yemenis; killed 1,500 people, 55% of them children.

The Red Cross has predicted that one out 45 people in Yemen will contract cholera. More than 600,000 people are expected to contract the disease before the end of the year. Some worrying reports show that a child dies in Yemen every 10 minutes from preventable causes like diarrhea, respiratory infections and malnutrition.

According to the UN, since March 2015, 3.2 million Yemenis have been displaced; 13,000 civilians have been casualties; 2 million children cannot attend schools;  and nearly 15 million people have no access to basic medical care. Out of 27 million people in Yemen, 20 million are starving, including 400,000 childrenand some 2.2 million are in need of urgent care.


“In the last two years, more children have died from preventable diseases than those killed in the violence. This is why vaccination campaigns are so crucial to save the lives of Yemen’s children and to secure their future,” said Dr. Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

Children are dying because the conflict is preventing them from getting the health care and nutrition they urgently need. Their immune systems are weak from months of hunger,” said Dr. Relaño.”

Saudi Arabia has also imposed a strict journalist embargo on Yemen, seeking to hide its acts of barbarism. It only grants sporadic access to the country to a few journalists from the mainstream Western media. On many occasions, they are indirectly endorsed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Despite the embargo, some independent journalists have risked their lives to enter the country covertly. They regularly show the Western world what the mainstream media refuses, the Saudi atrocities in Yemen.

The mainstream Western media regularly ignores the Yemeni conflict by ensuring that it is not attractive enough for the Western audience, which supposedly prefers those in Iraq and Syria because there are more parties involved.

Nothing is expected to change soon; the Saudi-led coalition will still commit atrocities across Yemen. The Houthis and the official Yemeni government will repress and kill thousands of innocent people, worsening the living conditions of innocent Yemenis. In addition, Al-Qaeda and ISIS are expected to increase their influence by taking key positions across Yemen, leading to a possible further American military intervention in the country.

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.

 

 

New US Travel Ban

On Thursday night, the US partly restored the so-called Muslim travel ban against citizens from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan, which imposes a 90-day ban on citizens from these countries and 120 days for refugees.

Legally permanent residents, current visa holders, visa applicants who were in the US as of June 26, dual nationals, anyone that has been granted asylum, refugees who have already been admitted to the US and foreign nationals with “close” family, educational or business ties to the US will be exempt from the ban. However, refugees currently awaiting approval for admission to the country will be banned.

The new executive order considers “close” family to be a spouse, child, son or daughter of age, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and siblings. However, it excludes fiancées, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, which had until now been considered “close” family.

The Supreme Court garnered the green light to the Trump administration to reinstate part of the travel ban on Monday and said that it would make a final ruling on the executive order in October.

The first Muslim travel ban had been halted in the lower court for months after it caused massive protests and chaos at all international airports across the entire country, which resulted in the illegal retention of thousands of US legal residents who were born in any of the aforementioned banned countries.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell University said the wording of the decision left the upholders of this law plenty of room for interpretation in terms of enforcement.

How individuals will prove such a [bona fide] relationship, and whether the burden of proof will be on the government or the individuals seeking entry, remains to be seen,” Yale-Loehr said. I predict chaos at the border and new lawsuits, as foreign nationals and refugees argue that they are entitled to enter the United States.”

The prediction of more discord at airports was mirrored by Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang.

Rather than keeping anyone safe,” Huang said, “this ban demonizes millions of innocent people and creates anxiety and instability for people who want to visit a relative, work, study, return to the country they call home, or just travel without fear.”

Several experts have suggested that the fact that those people who have been working with the US in its secret operations in the fight against ISIL will also be banned is very worrisome. And it also endangers their lives.

Furthermore, a travel ban which will not allow grandparents to meet their grandchildren in the US will be catastrophic for many families. However, the worst part of it will be for those refugees who are trying to flee from certain death in their countries to the US. They will now have to face threats, torture, abuse, and death.

Most of the population of the US opposes to what they think it is an unfair Muslim travel ban, which will cause suffering to thousands of families, and which could backfire in the form of terrorism.

Although it is still too soon to know the real impact of the new travel ban on people’s lives, numerous human rights organizations think that this one will be more chaotic than the previous one.

Awaiting the final decision of the Supreme Court in October, human rights organizations and NGO’s will keep fighting against every Muslim travel ban in order to guarantee people’s human rights.

Wikileaks Revelations Expose How the CIA Wants to Destroy Everyone’s Privacy

On Tuesday, Wikileaks published 8,761 documents revealing how the CIA hacks Samsung TVs, computers, phones and cars to spy on civilians all over the world. A CIA team created a new program capable of infecting the above-mentioned devices, turning them into microphones ready to collect information on their owners, even when the devices are apparently off.

Once the device is infected, the CIA can bypass the encryption on apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal by using phones programmed with Google’s Android and IOS platforms to collect audio and message traffic before encryption is applied. Further, infected devices to the controlling agent the user’s current(geographic) location, audio and text communications as well as discreetly operate the phone’s camera and microphone.”

According to Wikileaks, each technique the CIA has created ‘forms a “fingerprint” that can be used by forensic investigators to attribute multiple different attacks to the same entity’.

A troubling piece of information is that, According to Wikileaks, the aforementioned cyber weapons were compromised and the tools are likely to be in the hands of criminals and foreign intelligence agencies.

As if that weren’t enough, the release also suggests that the U.S. consulate in Germany is in fact a secret American base. Apparently, most of the workers at the Consulate are undercover hackers that regularly collect information on Europeans, Africans, and Middle EasternersIt suggests that there could be many other secret hacking bases in unsuspected places worldwide.

A curious discovery from the disclosure is that the CIA had hidden its operations trying to appear as if they were Russian hackers.Moreover, when it has often been suggested that the Russian government interfered in the last election to help Trump winthis suggests that CIA agents might have fabricated part of that story.

Experts who have started to analyze Wikileaks revelations said they appeared legitimate. They added that the release was the biggest in the CIA’s history.

Wikileaks has a long history of publishing authentic documents that have been leaked from government agencies, corporations, and powerful individuals.

When asked, a CIA spokesperson said:

“We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.”

Wikileaks announced that this is the first in a series of documents to be published which will cover the CIA’s full suite of hacking tools.

“We need to know if the CIA lost control of its hacking tools, who may have those tools, and how do we now protect the privacy of Americans… The potential privacy concerns are mind-boggling,” he said.

With this disclosure, Wikileaks has exposed how vulnerable we all are. Snowden’s disclosure exposed that the CIA had the capability to monitor and record conversations on the Internet and by phone. It also exposed the collaboration between the CIA and the biggest phone and computing companies by sharing data to spy on civilians. However, yesterday’s disclosure goes beyond this collaboration; the CIA can now spy on anyone through a broad spectrum of electronic devices. This disclosure indicates that, in the current technological era, there are few options to prevent such an espionage, removing any sort of privacy from people’s lives.

Privacy is important because it allows us to think as we please without any external manipulation. Without it, no one can develop critical thinking mind, which is central to becoming the owner of their life. People are all at risk of falling into a “vegetative state” in which people will passively accept everything told by their governments. One wants to believe that this phase is still far away, but if these surveillance methods are not phased out soon, we will reach a point of no return.

It is a fact that there is already a wide spectrum of journalists and citizens who are influenced by third parties. The way they investigate; act, or use the Internet is determined by the fear of being under surveillance. 

When critics thought that “1984” by George Orwell was just a fantasy novel, they were wrong. It is true that our society is not yet in the situation depicted therein, but no one can deny that there are many parallels and unless the CIA indefinitely suspends its surveillance programs, within a decade or two, everyone will be very tightly controlled by their government in all circumstances, even in those places without any electronic devices.

While we wait for the second part of the Wikileaks revelations, we should all think about what kind of world we want to build for future generations and start thinking about how to fight back to better protect their privacy.