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Six months since the October 1 referendum

The pro-independence leadership is either in jail or abroad, Catalonia is under direct rule of Madrid and the standstill to elect a new president continues as protest on the streets grow

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01 April 2018 11:27 AM

by

ACN | Barcelona

It's now six months since the October 1 referendum on independence in Catalonia. And a lot has happened during that time. After calls for negotiation and mediation failed, Catalan politicians declared independence in Parliament on October 27. The Spanish government immediately after stripped Catalonia of its self-government, sacked the full cabinet and many of the political leaders that pushed for independence are either in jail or abroad fighting extradition.

Oct 1 – Referendum day

The Catalan government organized an independence referendum on October 1, 2017. The Spanish executive deemed it illegal, and sent thousands of police officers from Spain to stop the vote. Citizens organized themselves to peacefully protect the ballot stations, with many even sleeping there through the night to guarantee that no police officer could close it. But as the morning started and polling stations were about the open their doors, Spanish riot police intervened.

Official figures from the Catalan Health Ministry said that almost 1,000 people were injured during referendum day. A man lost his eye due to a rubber bullet. Tear gas was used in some polling stations. International organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the police use of violence and described it as excessive.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, urged the authorities in Spain to ensure a "thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all acts of violence" that took place on referendum day. No investigation has started.

Results showed up to 2,2 million people took part in the vote, over 42% of the population, with almost 90% backing independence. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said then Catalans had "won the right to statehood". The Spanish government rejected the referendum as illegal and warned it could suspend Catalonia's self-rule.  

Oct 3- Catalonia shuts down in protest

One of the immediate reactions in Catalonia after the crackdown of the referendum was a strike all over the country. There were massive demonstrations around Catalonia, with over 700,000 people taking to the streets in Barcelona, according to local police. Many roads and train lines were cut, and shops and schools were shut down. 

Oct 8 – Unionist also take to the streets

The October 1 referendum did not only mobilize pro-independence supporters, but also those against the separation from Spain. Anti-independence organizations held a big demonstration in Barcelona on October 8 to defend Spain's unity, gathering more than 350,000 people, according to official figures from the local police.

Oct 10 – No declaration of independence

Parliament met on October 10 amid a huge media expectation. However, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont put on hold a full declaration of independence, urging Spain to engage in negotiations, and following recommendations from the international community.

In Madrid however, they refused to negotiate, saying his speech was inadmissible and vowing to take action. In the streets, many pro-independence supporters admitted to be disappointed after the Catalan leader move.

Oct 16 – Activists jailed

The leaders of the two main pro-independence organizations, Jordi Sànchez, from the ANC, and Jordi Cuixart, from Òmnium Cultural, were jailed on October 16 for an alleged crime of sedition. The prosecution accused them of promoting protests in the streets to impede police action on September 20, when agents from the Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials.  

Oct 27 – Declaration of independence and Article 155

After calls for negotiations failed, Catalan Parliament declared independence on October 27. Immediately after, the Spanish Senate approved the suspension of Catalonia's self-rule, and Madrid sacked the full Catalan cabinet, their representatives in Madrid and Brussels and shut down all Catalan delegations abroad. The Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, called an election in Catalonia for December 21.

Oct 30 – Nov 3 – Exile and prison

Immediately after the declaration of independence, no clear action to implement a 'Catalan Republic' was taken. After the dramatic previous weeks, no demonstrations were called and the leadership of the sacked Catalan government was nowhere to be seen.

On October 30, news broke that the Catalan president and some of his ministers could be in Brussels, Belgium. The day after, they organized a press conference to say that they would defend Catalonia's rights from the EU capital and condemning the Spanish government reaction to Catalans wish for self-determination.

President Puigdemont and four ministers – Toni Comín, Meritxell Serret, Lluís Puig and Clara Ponsatí- stayed in Brussels. The rest of the cabinet, in Catalonia.

The Spanish National Court summoned all of them around 'All Saints Day' to testify on November 3 in Madrid. Vicepresident Oriol Junqueras and ministers Carles Mundó, Joaquim Forn, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Santi Vila, Dolors Bassa and Meritxell Borràs faced the judge. They prosecutor said they had committed alleged crimes of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. The judge jailed eight of them that same day and issued European Arrest Warrant against those in Brussels. Protests immediately started in Catalonia.

Nov 8 – general strike

The imprisonments of Catalan ministers and activists prompted a general strike on November 8. There were road and train cuts, and big demonstrations around the country. About 750,000 people took to the streets in Barcelona, according to local police, two days later.

Dec 4 – Six ministers leave prison

In the middle of an electoral campaign, the Spanish Supreme Court, which took over the independence case from the National Court, decided to release on bail six Catalan ministers. Raül Romeva, Carles Mundó, Dolors Bassa, Meritxell Borràs, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, were released after paying €100,000 each. Vicepresident Oriol Junqueras and Home Affairs Minister Joaquim Forn continued behind bars, as did activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Dec 5 – European Arrests Warrants withdrawn

The Spanish Supreme Court decided to withdrawn the European Arrest Warrants against Puigdemont and the four ministers that were with him in Belgium. A Belgian judge had already took their testimonies and was about to announce a decision –which was never made public. Puigdemont said Spain had withdrawn the EAW out of fear that Belgium would not extradite him.

Dec 7 – Brussels demonstration

Pro-independence organizations organized a protest in Brussels that gathered around 45,000, according to the Belgian police.

Dec 21 – Election

Catalans went to the polling stations massively, with an historic turnout of 81.9%. The biggest party was unionist Ciutadans, which got 36 seats, followed by Puigdemont's JxCat (34), pro-independenceEsquerra Republicana (32), the Socialists (17), CatComú-Podem (8), far-left CUP (4) and Rajoy's People's Party (4).

This result meant that pro-independence forces JxCat, ERC and CUP kept their overall majority. However, negotiations to form a new government have proved difficult.

January 30 – plenary debate suspended

Carles Puigdemont, the deposed Catalan president and leader of the biggest pro-independence group in the chamber, was the first presidential candidate.

However, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that Puigdemont could not be elected from Brussels and must ask a judge permission to attend the parliamentary session. Although he was a free man in the EU, he would have been immediately arrested if he had set foot in Spain, where a judge wants him for alleged crime of rebellion.

In these circumstances, the Catalan parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, postponed the vote to elect Puigdemont. The decision prompted a crisis amongst pro-independence forces, with ERC urging Puigdemont's ticket to form an "effective" government, and far-left CUP regretting what they saw as a "submission" to Spain's rulings.

March 1 – Puigdemont steps aside

In a speech published online, Carles Puigdemont announced he was "provisionally" giving up plans to be re-elected as Catalan president. He gave way to his number two in the list, Jordi Sànchez, imprisoned in Madrid. But the Spanish Supreme Court promptly said that it would not allow Sànchez to leave prison to be attend his investiture debate. On March 21, JxCat puts forward a third presidential candidate: former presidency minister Jordi Turull.

March 22 – Turull's bid rejected

Jordi Turull’s bid for president was rejected in Parliament. His candidacy only got 64 supports, with 65 votes against and 4 abstentions. Two days later, a second round of votes was to be held, but the Spanish Supreme Court summoned him and five others to appear in court hours before that vote.

Three Esquerra MPS summoned to Court gave up their seats before travelling to Madrid, including its Secretary General, Marta Rovira.

March 23 – New imprisonments and exile

The Spanish Supreme Court decided to jail without bail five Catalan leaders, including presidential candidate Jordi Turull, former Parliametn Speaker Carme Forcadell and sacked ministers Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva and Josep Rull.

That same day, the leader of Esquerra Republicana, Marta Rovira, announced she had gone into exile. She is thought to be in Switzerland. Spain issued an International Arrest Warrant against her.

The Spanish Supreme Court also issued that day new European Arrests Warrants against Puigdemont, Comín, Serret, Ponsatí and Puig.

Also on March 23, the UN Committee on Human Rights urged Spain to protect "political rights" of former presidential candidate Jordi Sànchez, imprisoned in Madrid. The same committe later on accepted a similar appeal presented by Puigdemont lawyers.  

March 25 – Carles Puigdemont detained in Germany

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany, on his way to Belgium. He had been in Switzerland and Finland the previous days in attempt to internationalize the independence cause. He was then sent to a prison in Neumünster, near the Danish border, where he is waiting for the prosecution to decide whether or not to admit the European Arrest Warrant against him. The case, then, will have to be considered by a judge, and can last months.

The other deposed ministers abroad are fighting extradition in Scotland and Belgium, while Rovira is expected to do it in Switzerland. In Scotland, Clara Ponsatí was released on bail and will appear on Court again in April 12. Comín, Serret and Puig are already in touch with the Belgian authorities but have so far not been asked to appear in court. Meanwhile, Switzerland has publicly stated that it never accepts extradition requests based on "political crimes". In the country, there is another Catalan politician: Anna Gabriel, from far-left CUP. 

 

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  • Spanish police in front of referendum votes on October 1 in Lleida (by Oriol Bosch)