Catalonia’s independence put on hold

Catalan regional government president Carles Puigdemont arrives to address the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2017

Catalonia’s independence put on hold

BARCELONA: Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said Tuesday he had accepted the “mandate of the people” for his region’s independence from Spain but suspended the declaration to allow more time for talks with Madrid.
In a speech to regional lawmakers in Barcelona, Puigdemont stopped short of declaring an outright split but left the door to secession open, leaving some political rivals scratching their heads. “I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent republic,” he said.
But the 54-year-old asked the Catalan Parliament to “suspend the effects of the independence declaration to initiate dialogue in the coming weeks.”
The central government fired back, with a spokesman rejecting what Madrid termed Catalonia’s “tacit” independence declaration.
Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have come out against an independence declaration, concerned over the country’s biggest upheaval since its transition to democracy in the 1970s.
EU nations are watching developments closely amid concern that Catalan independence could put further pressure on the bloc still dealing with the fallout from Britain’s shock decision to leave. Police deployed en masse around the regional Parliament, blocking public access to a park that houses the building as crowds watched the session on giant screens, waving Catalan flags and some brandishing signs reading “democracy.”
Reaction among those who had hoped to witness a historic moment for a region deeply-divided over independence was mixed. “In essence we’re happy but I was expecting more,” said 66-year-old Pere Valldeneu.
Merce Hernandez, a 35-year-old architect, said: “I am very emotional, this is a historic day. I’m satisfied.”
Madrid has repeatedly said it would not negotiate on Catalonia’s independence. “We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters earlier Thursday. A source from the central government’s representative office in Catalonia said security had been tightened at Catalan airports and railway stations in anticipation of possible protests at Puigdemont’s possible independence announcement.
At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the EU.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his power to prevent independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous region — an unprecedented move many fear could lead to unrest.
EU President Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible.”
Around 90 percent of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession boycotted an illegal plebiscite that witnessed a violent police crackdown.


US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

Updated 07 December 2019

US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

  • The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence
  • Permanent cease-fire would be the eventual goal, said a US statement

KABUL: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.
The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.
The meetings being held in the Middle eastern State of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Ghani calling him a US puppet.
Ghani leads the Afghan government with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States after the presidential elections in 2014 were so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined.
To head off a conflict Washington stepped in and forced the two leading candidates __ Ghani and Abdullah __ to share power in a so-called Unity Government that has been largely paralyzed because of the relentless bickering between the two leaders.
The Afghan government is now embroiled in a fresh elections standoff. Presidential polls on Sept. 28 again ended in accusations of misconduct and corruption, with no results yet announced.
Repeat leading contender Abdullah has challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing his opponent Ghani of trying to manipulate the tally.
Meanwhile, Khalilzad’s return to his peace mission followed Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan in which he said talks with the Taliban were back on.
While Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US airstrikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.
The insurgents have continued to carry put near daily strikes against military outposts throughout the country. They now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.
Trump has expressed frustration with America’s longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan’s own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticized for its relentless corruption.