French Catalans offer Catalan leader luxury safe-house

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 24.10.2017 22:31

French Catalans have a villa with a swimming pool and other safe houses ready in the event that Carles Puigdemont and other leaders of Spain's Catalonia region have to seek refuge from Madrid.

While the idea of Catalan leaders fleeing Spain and setting up an underground network abroad still appears remote, French backers of Catalan independence are taking no chances. They say they have 52 houses and flats lined up near the Spanish border.

"It's all ready. We have the logistics to be able to house about 200 people for now, and more if needed," said Robert Casanovas, an activist and head of the Committee for the self-determination of North Catalonia, the French Catalan area."Our aim is to be ready if there are arrest warrants issued against members of the Catalan government, and in particular its president," he said in a phone interview.Unlike their Spanish counterparts, French Catalan activists do not seek independence for their territory but ask for more autonomy, including on tax matters. Thousands of Catalan speakers live across the border in France, mainly in the eastern Pyrenees region along the Mediterranean Coast, territory ceded to France by Spain in the 17th Century. Top Catalan officials sought refuge in France in the late 1930s from Spain's military dictator Francisco Franco.

The government of Catalonia will not avert sanctions from the central government in Madrid merely by calling new regional elections, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala said.

In an interview with Spanish public broadcaster RNE, Catala said yesterday that only a clear change of direction would solve the ongoing political confrontation over Catalonia's push for independence from Spain.

Above all, said Catala, the head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, would have to forgo a declaration of independence and comply with Spanish laws.

Catalonia plans to appeal the application of article 155, which will place its governance in the hands of the central government, in the constitutional court, regional spokesman Jordi Turull said yesterday.Spain's upper house of parliament is set to authorize the government to use those special powers on Friday.

Catalonia's regional parliament is scheduled to meet in a plenary session on Thursday and could pre-empt Madrid by calling new elections. However, the authorities in Madrid are also preparing for the possibility that Puigdemont may unilaterally declare Catalonia's independence.

Catalan leader and his government have called for civil disobedience to defy the direct rule move. They have not publicly discussed exile.

In response to the region's ongoing push for independence in the wake of a disputed referendum on October 1, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday proposed a number of potential sanctions on Catalonia, which include the removal of the separatist regional government and the proclamation of new elections within six months.

The proposed measures were formulated based on article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which permits the central government to suspend a region's autonomy if it does not fulfil its obligations to the state.

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