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.


Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

Updated 26 April 2018
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Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

NORRISTOWN-PENNSILVANIA: Bill Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting a woman in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era,
completing the spectacular late-life downfall of a comedian who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV superstardom as America’s Dad.
Cosby, 80, could end up spending his final years in prison after a jury concluded he sexually violated Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He claimed the encounter was consensual.
Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele and called him an “a--hole” after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he might flee. Cosby denied he has an airplane and shouted, “I’m sick of him!“
The judge decided Cosby can remain free on bail while he awaits sentencing.
Shrieks erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and some of his accusers whimpered and cried. Constand remained stoic, then hugged her lawyer and members of the prosecution team.
“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”
The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too. One of those women asked him through her tears, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?“
The panel of seven men and five women reached a verdict after deliberating 14 hours over two days, vindicating prosecutors’ decision to retry Cosby after his first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago.
Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault. He is likely to get less than that under state sentencing guidelines, but given his age, even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.
Constand, 45, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, told jurors that Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said the former TV star drugged and molested them over a span of five decades.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan said in his closing argument. “It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences.”
Another prosecutor, Kristen Feden, said Cosby was “nothing like the image that he played on TV” as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing father of five Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”