World Catalan separatists to test unity ahead of Madrid talks
Floods sweep cars into sea, damage homes in northeast Spain
ALCANAR, Spain (AP) — Spain’s northeast town of Alcanar took toll Thursday of the damage to homes and businesses caused by flooding produced by intense rain that fell on large areas of the country. Residents said that they were fortunate that no lives were lost when over 250 liters per square meter (45 gallons per square yard) were dumped on the town between midnight and 6 p.m. on Wednesday. “We had to get upstairs to our apartment and then leave it all in God’s hands,” said Rosa María Sancho, the 67-year-old owner of a restaurant on the Alcanar boardwalk.The flash flooding quickly turned streets into swift rivers that swept away all in their path.
Catalonia's deeply divided separatist movement will put its mobilisation skills to the test Saturday as the northeastern region celebrates its national day ahead of fresh talks with Spain's government.
The annual "Diada" on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and normally draws vast crowds of more than one million people.
This year's celebrations will be the first since Spain pardoned nine separatist leaders who were serving long jail terms over their involvement in a failed 2017 independence bid.
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Under the slogan, "We will fight for independence and win", the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the region's biggest grassroots separatist movement, is planning to march through Barcelona in an annual rally that at its peak brought 1.5 million people onto the streets.
- Out of steam -
But many things have changed since the frenetic autumn of 2017 when the Catalan regional government staged a referendum banned by Madrid and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain's worst political crisis in decades.
Those behind the move were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain's top court, while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the movement deeply disappointed and sharply at odds over how to proceed.
Catalan separatists to take streets ahead of Madrid talks
Catalan separatists are expected to jam the streets of Barcelona on Saturday in a test of their strength ahead of fresh negotiations with Spain's government. The protest coincides with Catalonia's national day, or "Diada", which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region's subsequent loss of institutions. As in other years, the march will get underway at 17:14 (1514 GMT) -- a nod to the year 1714. The slogan this year is: "We will fight for independence and win".At its peak in 2014, the annual demonstration brought an estimated 1.8 million people onto the streets.
"Since 2017, morale has hit a real low, but the fact that there were political prisoners (in jail) gave them something to keep fighting for," Berta Barbet, a political scientist from Barcelona's Autonomous University, told AFP.
"Now that is gone (following the prisoners' pardon), the real lack of driving force is clear for all to see."
Also weighing on the mood is friction within Catalonia's new separatist-led government, which groups the moderate leftist ERC that favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence, and its more radical junior partner, JxC, which wants to keep up a confrontational approach.
Such pressures have depleted the numbers at recent Diadas, with only 600,000 hitting the streets in 2019, the lowest number in many years.
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In 2020, coronavirus-related health restrictions reduced the celebrations to a handful of separate events which drew fewer than 60,000 people.
Thousands of Catalans rally for independence in Barcelona
Thousands of Catalans rally for independence in BarcelonaThe march, organised by the grassroots Assemblea Nacional Catalana [ANC], was the first since Spain's government pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been jailed for their role in a 2017 botched bid for independence, which was Spain's biggest political crisis in decades.
The separatist camp also suffered a setback this week before the European Court of Human Rights, which dismissed complaints from two people who say they were the victims of police violence during the 2017 referendum.
- An impossible agreement? -
Despite everything, independence is deeply rooted within this wealthy region of 7.8 million residents.
"Even though it is going through a difficult moment politically, the independence movement is still very strong on the street," said Barbet.
And that was on show in regional elections in February when the separatists managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes.
Following weeks of tense negotiations, Pere Aragones, a moderate ERC separatist, was finally installed as regional leader in May.
A small player within Spain's parliament, ERC has offered crucial support to the minority government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and when it took over as senior partner in the Catalan administration, it had an immediate effect.
Within weeks, the Spanish government had pardoned the separatist leaders and agreed to resume top-level talks on resolving the Catalan crisis.
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Sanchez and Aragones are scheduled to meet next week, although there is still no fixed date and it remains unclear whether the Spanish premier will attend the talks in person.
What is clear is that both sides will come to the table with radically different roadmaps.
The Spanish government is against the key demands of the separatists -- namely, an amnesty for all those involved in the failed independence bid, which would exonerate those who fled abroad, and a referendum on self-determination, this time with Madrid's approval.
"There is little or no room for agreement", said Lluis Orriols, a political scientist at Madrid's Carlos III University.
"The central government can offer greater regional powers, it can seek to hold a referendum with different parameters, but only as long as it doesn't infringe on Spain's constitution," he said.
Still, there is hope that the negotiations will ease tensions at a key moment of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spain restarts talks to resolve Catalan secession crisis .
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister and Catalonia's leader met Wednesday to restart negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region’s separatist movement. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sat down with regional president Pere Aragonès at the seat of the Catalan government in downtown Barcelona. Expectations are low for any huge advances from the meeting which has caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Republican Left of Catalonia party call the talks a “historic opportunity.