Catalonia warned against independence vote

Updated 19 December 2012
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Catalonia warned against independence vote

MADRID: Spain's deputy prime minister warned yesterday the government has the legal power to halt a planned referendum on Catalonia's possible separation from Spain.
Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the plebiscite would be illegal and "our legislation has many mechanisms to stop any illegality."
She spoke just hours before the two parties with most seats in Catalonia's Parliament signed an agreement that calls for a self-determination referendum in 2014 in the northeastern region whose capital is Barcelona.
The governing Convergence and Union agreed on Tuesday to hold the referendum within two years in return for the Republican Left of Catalonia's support to form a new regional government following recent elections.
The pact paves the way for Convergence and Union leader and acting regional president Artur Mas to be voted back into office by the Catalonian Parliament tomorrow.
"We aim to put the future of Catalonia in the hands of the citizens of Catalonia and to do that we want to consult them democratically," said Republican Left leader Oriol Junqueras.
The national government, however, says any referendum proposing a change in the region's status within Spain would be illegal and unconstitutional. A similar move by Spain's Basque region was rejected by the national Parliament in Madrid in 2005.
Catalonia is Spain's most economically powerful region but now the most indebted due to the crisis. It has asked for some € 5 billion ($ 6.6 billion) from a central government bailout fund.
Mas called early elections in November and proposed the referendum after Spain rejected a demand to grant the region special fiscal powers. But his party lost 12 seats in the election and was left needing support to form a minority government. Pro-referendum parties now have a majority of seats in the regional parliament.
However, Unlike the Republican Left, the conservative and business-oriented Convergence and Union has never actually come out and declared itself in favor of independence.
No specific date has been set for the referendum. And although the wording of the plebiscite question has yet to be decided, the pact says it would allow Catalonians to express by referendum whether they want Catalonia to become a European state.

European Union authorities have said an independent Catalonia would have to reapply for membership of the bloc.
Polls show Catalonians are almost evenly divided over independence, but a majority opposes it if it means exiting the EU.
FROM: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

Updated 30 min 44 sec ago
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Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

  • Human Rights Watch warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
  • Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai.

CAIRO: An Egyptian military campaign to defeat Daesh militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula is choking essential food and medical supplies to thousands of residents in the desert region, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The army denied the charge.
The New York-based organization warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
The army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents over many years.
Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants since then, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai. The army has said it is winning the battle.
A military spokesman denied there were shortages, saying it was providing food and medical support throughout the areas it operated in, The HRW report had used “undocumented sources” in its report, he said.
“Thousands of food parcels have been and are being provided to people in North Sinai,” Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, the spokesman, added.
International news outlets are prevented from traveling to North Sinai to report.
Residents said food supplies, medicine and fuel were insufficient and that movement restrictions meant most people were unable to leave the region, HRW reported.
“A counter-terrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The report said authorities had banned the sale of petrol and cut communication lines, water and electricity in some areas of North Sinai including near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Residents told Reuters last month they often waited for hours for bread handouts which were not guaranteed to arrive.
Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising has been a promise of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.
El-Sisi’s critics say he has presided over Egypt’s worst crackdown on dissent. Supporters say such measures are needed to bring stability and improve the country’s hard-hit economy.
In Sinai, analysts and foreign diplomats say heavy-handed military tactics including air strikes and demolitions of populated areas have failed to defeat the insurgency.