Sat, 22 Sep 2018

Amid political turmoil, Spain celebrates National Day

By Sheetal Sukhija, Barcelona News
12 Oct 2017, 19:17 GMT+10

MADRID, Spain - A day after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave Catalonia's separatist leader five days to clarify whether or not he has declared independence - the nation made a public display of unity.

Spain is preparing to celebrate its National Day amid a political crisis that was sparked by Catalonia's disputed independence referendum.

Rajoy also told the parliament the country was facing the most serious threat to its 40-year-old democracy.

After the Catalonia leader delivered his much-awaited speech earlier this week, Spain has threatened to impose direct rule on the autonomous region.

The National Day, which commemorates the reunification of Spain and Christopher Columbus's first arrival in the Americas in 1492, is a public holiday in the country.

Amongst other events across the country, the capital Madrid will witness parades that King Felipe and Rajoy are expected to attend. 

The event this year comes days after the October 1 referendum in Catalonia, which was declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court sparked turmoil, threatening to split the nation.

According to Catalan officials, almost 90 percent of voters backed independence with a turnout of 43 percent.

The vote was largely boycotted by anti-independence voters and there were reports of irregularities.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont subsequently signed a declaration of independence in Barcelona, but immediately suspended its implementation to allow for talks with Madrid.

However, this left hardline separatists frustrated and brought scorn from the Spanish government.

Rajoy, who held an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday accused Puigdemont of having created "deliberate confusion" and said he wanted to restore "certainty.”

He added that his government had asked the regional government to clarify whether or not it had declared independence.

If Puigdemont confirms by Monday that he has, he will be given a further three days to withdraw the declaration.

However, if that fails, Madrid will invoke Article 155 of the constitution allowing it to suspend the region's autonomy and impose direct rule. 

Rajoy said, “There is an urgent need to put an end to the situation that Catalonia is going through - to return it to safety, tranquillity and calm and to do that as quickly as possible.”

He accused separatists of hatching an "anti-democratic plan foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia.” He said the Spanish government had had no choice but to restore order.

Rajoy even told the parliament that Spanish democracy was "experiencing one of the most serious moments in its history.”

He added, “It falls to the Catalan leader to restore constitutional normality," rejecting any suggestion of outside mediation.

He said he was willing to negotiate on the issue of regional autonomy and changes to the constitution.

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