Splits emerge among Catalan separatists

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers an institutional statement during a television broadcast. Puigdemont has threatened to declare independence “within days.” (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Splits emerge among Catalan separatists

BARCELONA: Splits have emerged among Catalan separatist leaders over their plans to unilaterally declare independence following a secession referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to declare independence “within days,” but the region’s business minister Santi Vila proposed a “cease-fire” in the row with Spain’s central government.
In an opinion article published in Catalan daily Ara he urged the pro-secession camp to “reflect on the usefulness and consequences” of a declaration of independence.
Puigdemont put off until Tuesday an appearance in the regional Catalan parliament at which time some leaders have called for the declaration to be made.
The session of parliament to analyze the results of last Sunday’s referendum was initially scheduled for Monday but Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered that it be suspended.
The Catalan government has also not yet officially ratified the results of the vote, a move which would open a two-day period in which the parliament can declare independence.
Participants in the referendum opted overwhelmingly for secession, but turnout was only 43 percent as Catalans who favor remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the ballot.
While Vila urged caution, Puigdemont is under strong pressure from the far-left CUP party — whose support his government needs to pass legislation — to move quickly.
“The inescapable, inevitable moment of exercising self-determination has arrived,” said CUP lawmaker Carles Riera.
Puigdemont’s predecessor Artur Mas also weighed in, telling Britain’s Financial Times that Catalan leaders should focus not on “how to proclaim independence, but instead on how to make it effective.”
Analysts said the Catalan government risks losing international sympathy and giving Madrid an excuse for a hard-line response if it makes a declaration of independence based on an unconstitutional vote.
But if it waits too long to act on the results of the plebiscite it could see the momentum behind the independence movement fizzle.
The debate is not just limited to politicians — supporters of the separatist cause are also divided over what strategy to follow.
“I have an inner conflict. I do not want a unilateral declaration of independence to happen that will last five minutes,” said Olga Jubany, an anthropology professor in Barcelona.
“The strategy (of independence) was never ‘we are going to impose it’. It is not the strategy I would like to follow.”
Joan Botella, dean of political science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said, “there is a sense of real alarm, not just uneasiness” in Catalan society.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is under pressure to show a harder line toward the separatists, has urged Puigdemont not to go ahead with the independence declaration to avoid “bigger problems.”
His comment was seen as a reference to a never before used article of the Spanish constitution which allows the central government to suspend the authority of a regional government.
“There are few hours left to avoid a head-on collision ... these are critical hours,” said Botella.
Since the referendum Puigdemont has called for international mediation.
Switzerland has been in contact with both sides in the dispute “but the conditions for facilitation do no exist at the moment,” the country’s foreign ministry said.
Without foreign mediation, the other option is for mediation within Spain.
Puigdemont has met with a commission set up by Barcelona’s law society made up of academics and representatives of unions and the business world.
It has recommended that both sides not take any “immediate decisions,” the withdrawal of the thousands of extra police sent to Catalonia ahead of the referendum, and for a “dialogue commission” to be set up.
“These are crucial hours, we cannot expect a mediator to suddenly emerge or that both governments accept a proposal for dialogue,” said Xavier Arbos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Barcelona.
“Although the situation remains worrying, now I see that there is a margin of time,” he added.


India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

Updated 22 September 2018
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India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

  • Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
  • Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”

DELHI: India’s prime minister was under fire over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France after comments by former French President François Hollande. Hollande was quoted as saying Narendra Modi’s government had influenced the choice of a local partner.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
The opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, spent the past year alleging that the deal is a scam, in which India is overpaying for jets and the government is allowing a private company — billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense — to benefit instead of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
On Friday, Hollande, who cleared the intergovernmental deal when he was in office, was quoted as saying New Delhi had put pressure on Dassault to choose Reliance.
“We had no choice. We took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was reported as telling the French news service Mediapart, fueling a political storm in India.
The Indian government, however, has insisted all along that it had nothing to do with Dassault’s decision to work with Reliance Defense.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip the Reliance Defense procured the contract .
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to ...Anil Ambani,” said Mr. Gandhi in a tweet.
Gandhi further tweeted: “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a ... SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defense forces. Modi Ji you dishonored the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Gandhi repeated the charge in a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday.
The BJP, however, says that there is no corruption.
“The fact that two sovereign heads of States negotiated a deal means that there is no room for corruption,” said Sudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
Talking to Arab News Verma emphasized that “the highest integrity was maintained in the deal. Now the Congress is not talking of corruption but favoritism. Merely by saying that Reliance Defense was favored by us would not cut any ice. These are insinuations and are irresponsible.”
Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”
“No matter what the indian government says that perception is that the Indian government gave the offset contract to Anil Ambani, a guy who has no history of producing defense equipment,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi based political analyst.
He added: “The halo around Modi has been severely diminished after the recent revelations. This is something which it would be very difficult to live it down now.”