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

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.


Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

Updated 15 September 2019

Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

  • The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests
  • Demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy

HONG KONG: Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters singing “God Save the Queen” and waving Union Jack flags rallied outside the British Consulate on Sunday demanding that the former colonial power ensures China honors its commitments to the city’s freedoms.
The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests, with demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, lays out Hong Kong’s future after its return to China in 1997, a “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one placard read. “SOS Hong Kong,” read another.
“One country, two systems is dead,” they shouted in English under the sub-tropical sun, some carrying the colonial flag also bearing the Union Jack. “Free Hong Kong.”
With many young people looking for routes out of Hong Kong, campaigners say Britain should change the status of the British National (Overseas) passport, a category created after Britain returned Hong Kong to China. The passports allow a holder to visit Britain for six months, but do not come with an automatic right to live or work there.
“I am here to demand the UK protect our citizens’ rights in Hong Kong and speak up for Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration,” Jacky Tsang, 25, told Reuters.
The spark for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary.
The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement, denies meddling and says the city is an internal Chinese issue. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 declaration.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.
“As a co-signatory, the UK government will continue to defend our position.”
But it was not immediately clear what Britain could or would want to do defend that position. It is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of next month.
The Civil Human Rights Front has also called for a mass rally in Victoria Park, just to the east of the central business district, but police have denied permission because of earlier clashes after huge gatherings.
Protesters are expected to turn up early in the afternoon anyway.