Chaos Continues In Spain's Catalonia Region Over Independence Vote

Oct 26, 2017
Originally published on October 26, 2017 8:46 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It was a strange day in the Spanish region of Catalonia. The separatist leader there was first expected to declare independence. Then he was expected to call fresh elections. But neither thing happened. Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Demonstrators in the streets of the Catalan capital, Barcelona, have alternated all day between cheering Carles Puigdemont...

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in Catalan).

FRAYER: ...And calling him a traitor.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in Catalan).

FRAYER: After a series of delays, the Catalan president finally appeared...

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PRESIDENT CARLES PUIGDEMONT: (Speaking Catalan).

FRAYER: ...Saying he considered calling fresh elections in Catalonia, which would have been a step back from confrontation with Madrid, but that he didn't get enough guarantees to do it.

GABRIELA BUSTELO: He was trying to make a deal that he was going to hold elections in exchange for impunity, but he's - I think he's way past impunity at this point.

FRAYER: Spanish author and analyst Gabriela Bustelo says Puigdemont is in a very weak position. It's not at all clear a majority of Catalans support him or independence. But Puigdemont relies on support from hardline separatists who are pressuring him, hence all the waffling today, Bustelo says.

BUSTELO: So I think he's completely cornered, and he doesn't really know what to do at this point. And also, he has lost 1,000 companies that have left Barcelona and are all heading for Madrid.

FRAYER: There's been an exodus from Catalonia of banks and businesses who want to stay under Spanish and European Union law. Catalonia is Spain's richest region, and some separatists want to stop subsidizing the rest of the country. But if their economy slows, they may change their minds. Lawmakers in Barcelona are debating into the night and could vote on a symbolic declaration of independence tomorrow just as Madrid prepares to depose them.

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SORAYA SAENZ DE SANTAMARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's our legal and democratic obligation to rescue Catalonia and restore order there," Spain's deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, said this evening. Tomorrow, the Spanish Senate votes on Article 155 of Spain's constitution authorizing the central government to fire Catalan politicians and take control of Catalonia. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.