Catalan MPs elect separatist speaker as sacked leader eyes comeback

Newly elected Parliament speaker Roger Torrent presides during Catalan's Parliament inaugural session on Wednesday in Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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Catalan MPs elect separatist speaker as sacked leader eyes comeback

BARCELONA: Catalan lawmakers on Wednesday elected a separatist as parliamentary speaker, the first stage of a plan by pro-independence deputies to get regional leader Carles Puigdemont, in self-exile in Belgium, back into power.
As MPs met for the first time since a failed bid to break from Spain, protesters waving separatist flags gathered outside the assembly in Barcelona where pro-independence parties are in the majority after winning regional elections on Dec. 21.
With 70 out of 135 deputies, they largely favor Puigdemont as candidate for regional president.
He was sacked by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy along with his cabinet on Oct. 27 after the regional Parliament declared unilateral independence, sparking a major political crisis in Spain and sending shock waves across Europe.
Despite being in Belgium, Puigdemont wants to make a comeback and govern the deeply divided region, though what he plans to do if he manages this remains a mystery.
For separatist lawmakers, the first step toward this was to secure control of Parliament by getting one of their supporters elected as speaker.
They did precisely that on Wednesday, with 65 lawmakers voting for Roger Torrent, the 38-year-old member of the leftwing separatist ERC party, against 56 who cast their ballot for an anti-independence candidate.
They also got four supporters elected as deputy parliamentary speakers out of seven.
These make sure assembly rules are respected and will decide whether Puigdemont and others are allowed to be lawmakers while remaining out of the country.
Including the former Catalan president, five separatists are abroad and risk arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the failed independence bid if they come back to Spain.
A further three pro-independence lawmakers are in jail pending a probe into similar charges.
Large yellow ribbons that have come to represent support for those in jail were placed on parliamentary seats Wednesday.
In his first speech as speaker, Torrent said the priority would be to end Madrid’s unpopular direct rule on Catalonia, imposed after the declaration of independence.
He added he wanted to “help look for understanding and dialogue in Catalonia’s political life.”
Lawmakers ended the session by singing the Catalan hymn, and separatist MPs shouted “long live a free Catalonia” and “freedom,” briefly applauded by Torrent.

To be elected president, Puigdemont should in theory be present at a later parliamentary session where the vote to name a new leader takes place, but he wants to appear by videolink or write a speech and have it read by someone else.
The Catalan Parliament’s rules stipulate that the candidate for the regional presidency must “present his or her government program to Parliament.”
It does not detail whether this must be done in person, but several legal experts, the opposition and the central government insist it cannot be done remotely.


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.