Spaniards take to streets as Catalonia independence tensions rise

People wave Spain’s flag at a pro-union demonstration in Madrid on October 7. (Reuters)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Spaniards take to streets as Catalonia independence tensions rise

MADRID/BARCELONA: Thousands of people gathered in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday as Catalonia prepared to declare independence, many dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades.
The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long claimed to be distinct from the rest of the country and on Sunday held a referendum on leaving Spain, a vote the constitutional court had banned.
The Catalan authorities say that a majority of those who voted supported a split from Spain, something Madrid says is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.
The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.
“I’ve come because I feel very Spanish and makes me very sad what’s happened,” Rosa Borras, 47, an unemployed secretary who had joined a noisy gathering in central Madrid, said.
Borras, wearing a “Catalonia, we love you” sticker and surrounded by thousands waving Spanish flags, added: “I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan. My family lives in Catalonia.”
While Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he is open to mediation, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists the region gives up the independence push, which grew in strength during a near-six year economic crisis, before he will sit down to talk.
Rajoy’s government mobilized thousands of national police to stop Sunday’s vote, leading to clashes with would-be voters as they tried to close polling stations in schools and remove ballot boxes.
The police violence drew widespread condemnation and forced the government to issue an apology on Friday, although tensions continued to rise after reports that plans for a unilateral declaration of independence will be handed to the Catalan parliament on Tuesday.
The crisis has also caused disquiet among Spain’s EU partners and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed it with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EU official told Reuters.
Concern is growing in EU capitals about the negative impact of the crisis on the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, and on possible spillovers to other economies.
European finance ministers, gathering in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a regular meeting, could discuss the issue, although it is not formally on the agenda, EU officials said.
The support given in public statements by EU leaders to Rajoy is combined with concern expressed in private about how the Spanish government’s use of police to prevent Catalans from voting last week in an independence referendum could backfire.
Some EU states are worried that talk of Catalan independence could fuel secessionist feelings in other parts of Europe.


Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

Updated 18 September 2018
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Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

  • The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure
  • Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership

YANGON: Myanmar’s powerful army should be removed from politics, UN investigators said Tuesday in the final version of a damning report reiterating calls for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
A brutal military crackdown last year forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh. Demands have mounted for those who waged the campaign to face justice.
The UN’s 444-page probe is the most meticulous breakdown of the violence to date. It says the military’s top leadership should be overhauled and have no further influence over the country’s governance.
Myanmar’s military dominates the Buddhist-majority nation, holding a quarter of seats in parliament and controlling three ministries, making their grip on power firm despite political reforms which began in 2011.
But the report said the country’s civilian leadership “should further pursue the removal of the Tatmadaw from Myanmar’s political life,” referring to the nation’s armed forces.
The UN’s analysis, based on 18 months’ work and more than 850 in-depth interviews, urges the international community to investigate the military top brass for genocide, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents who staged deadly raids on border posts in August 2017.
But the UN team said the military’s tactics had been “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.”
The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure.
Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership.
Myanmar only recently emerged from almost a half century of military junta rule and Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals.
Their presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes, making any transition to full civilian control extremely difficult.
Three key ministries -– home affairs, border and defense –- are also in their hands, giving them carte blanche to conduct security operations with little oversight.
“It is impossible to remove the army out of political life without changing the constitution, and the military have a veto over constitutional changes,” Mark Farmaner, from Burma Campaign UK, told AFP.
The UN team said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the atrocities — including systematic murder, rape, torture and arson -– were committed with the intention of destroying the stateless Rohingya, warranting the charges of genocide.
The mission, created by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, did not focus its sights entirely on the army.
It directed specific criticism at Suu Kyi, whose global reputation has been shattered by her failure to speak up for the Rohingya against the military.
While acknowledging that the civilian authorities have little influence over military actions, the report said that their “acts and omissions” had “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
Pointing to “deeply entrenched” impunity in Myanmar, the investigators said the only chance to obtain accountability was through the international justice system.
They also pointed to failings of the UN’s office within Myanmar, alleging that “quiet diplomacy” was prioritized and that those who tried to push the UN’s Human Rights Up Front approach were “ignored, criticized, sidelined or blocked in these efforts.”
The independent UN team will present its findings to member states of the Human Rights Council in Geneva later on Tuesday, after which Myanmar will have a chance to respond to the allegations.
It also repeated suggestions that crimes against the Rohingya be referred to the International Criminal Court, which concluded in August that it had jurisdiction to investigate even though Myanmar is not a member of the treaty underpinning the tribunal.
Myanmar has dismissed the tribunal’s authority and analysts have pointed to the court’s lack of enforcement powers.
The investigators also recommended an arms embargo and “targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible.”