Catalan leader grilled on independence on CNN

Artur Mas, president of the autonomous region of Catalonia, replied 'That's true' when asked by American broadcaster CNN if less than 50 percent of Catalans were in favour of full independence from Spain, but insisted that a referendum was the only reliable way to find out.

Catalan leader grilled on independence on CNN
“In my personal case, I'm going to vote yes, as a citizen. But as a president of Catalonia, my commitment is to hold the referendum,” Mas told his international audience.. JOSEP LAGO / AFP

Artur Mas was speaking in English last Thursday with CNN interviewer Christiane Amanpour who said, “Although most people seem to be in favour of a referendum, I read that not even half want to break away from Spain.”

“Well, this is true”, Mas replied.

“But believe me when I tell you that it is absolutely impossible to know what the majority in Catalonia is for independence if we don’t hold the referendum,” he added.

Read The Local's profile of Catalan President Artur Mas

Forty-seven percent of Catalans polled earlier this year said that they would vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, while 19.3 percent would give the proposal the thumbs down.

Some 8.6 percent said they would want Catalonia to be a state, but not an independent one according to the Catalan research institute Centro de Estudios de Opinion (CEO).

Mas is pushing ahead with a referendum on November 9th despite opposition from Madrid.

“Two things can happen,” Mas told CNN. “The first one is a reaction, a moderate reaction of the Spanish government tolerating the referendum in Catalonia. That would be the best-case scenario.”

“The worst-case scenario would be that just after I call the referendum in November, the Spanish government sends to the constitutional court the referendum, and the constitutional court would have the possibility to revoke it,” he said.

“Catalonia was born one thousand years ago. We have a long history behind us,” said Mas.

“We have found a lot of different obstacles, problems, difficulties and so on. And we have always tried to overcome.”

He added:  “Now it is the right time for the referendum in Catalonia to go on and to go ahead. And our way to do that will be absolutely peaceful – and this is not the case in Ukraine – and also absolutely democratic.”

“In my personal case, I'm going to vote yes, as a citizen. But as a president of Catalonia, my commitment is to hold the referendum,” he concluded.

It is not the first time that Mas has presented the case for Catalan independence to the American public. In 2013 he wrote a piece in the New York Times explaining his position.


Madrid electrical bicycle share system takes off

They allow you to climb the steepest streets of Madrid without sweating, even on sultry summer days: more than 50,000 residents of the Spanish capital have signed up for a public electric bike share system.

In the shadow of the San Ildefonso church in the heart of Madrid, Anne Stauder, a tourist from Luxembourg, is trying out a BiciMAD bike for the first time.

“We came from Luxembourg with our four bicycles inside our car  — my children, my husband and me — and we have visited the city like that for 10 days. But I wanted to try the electric bike because Madrid is hilly,” the 44-year-old said.

The white bicycles work just like a regular bike but an electric motor kicks in to help with pedalling, and most importantly it give an extra push up hills.

The city of some three million people launched its electric bike share system in June 2014.

While other European cities like London and Paris set up shared bicycles schemes earlier, Madrid is the first major city to offer a system that only uses electric bicycles.

The argument behind BiciMAD is that with only regular bikes, they accumulate in low-lying areas and need to be shuffled around by trucks to redistribute them to higher ground —  as happens in Barcelona.

Margot Bonilla, a 28-year-old IT technician, started using the electric bikes in July and no longer uses the metro to get around the city.  

“You exercise, you don't pollute and you move around fast. It's just a bit expensive for my taste,” she said.

An annual membership to the bike sharing scheme costs €25 ($27.7) while renting a bicycle costs 50 cents during the first half hour, then 60 cents for the next half hour.

By comparison a ride on the Madrid metro costs €1.5 for travel in the centre of the city.

Another problem is a lack of bicycles, Bonilla added.  

“Yesterday I had to walk home because I went to two stations and did not find any,” she said, repeating a common complaint from regular users of the system.

Vandalised and stolen

The city rents the bicycles from Spanish firm Bonopark, which since 2013 has supplied electric bicycles for a similar scheme in the northern Spanish city of San Sebastian.

“We have a thousand bicycles available at 160 stations right now,” said the head of the BiciMAD system, Joaquim Jimenez.  

“We will have 2,000 electrical bicycles once the system is fully operational and the goal is to have 4,000 by 2026 when the contract ends,” he added.

Madrid city hall has spent €535,000 to rent the bicycles from Bonopark since the bicycle sharing program was launched in June 2014.

It blames the shortage of bicycles on a technical glitch with the docking system, which often fails to recognise bikes and locks them, making it impossible for users of the system to take them for a ride.

The electrical bicycles also suffer all sorts of attacks: they are mistreated by users, yanked from docking stations to be taken for a free ride, abandoned anywhere, sometimes even in the city's Manzanares river.

Since the launch of the scheme, 470 bicycles have either been stolen or vandalised to the point that they could no longer be used, according to a city hall tally.

The vandalism has increased since the start of summer but city hall does not link the influx of foreign tourists during the peak travel season with the rise.

Stolen BiciMAD bicycles usually resurface since they can only be recharged at a public station and they weight a hefty 22 kilos (48.5 pounds), said Jimenez.

The launch of the electrical bicycle sharing scheme has led to an increase in the use of bicycles in general in the city, despite the lack of cycle lanes.

“Clearly we want a city with fewer cars,” the city councillor in charge of mobility, Ines Sabanes, said.

“We need the use of bicycles to develop, it is an obligation,” she added, referring to European Union demands that Madrid boost public transportation to curb high air pollution levels.

By Laurence Boutreux

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