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Spanish PM due in Catalonia after fresh separatist challenge

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was poised Friday to venture into separatist territory, due in Barcelona fresh from yet another challenge by Catalonia's pro-independence leaders who launched their campaign for a referendum.

Spanish PM due in Catalonia after fresh separatist challenge
People gather outside the Tarraco arena in Tarragona ahead of the launch of the referendum campaign. Photo: AFP

In front of a crowd of 8,000 fervent supporters in Tarragona, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and other separatist leaders announced the official start of the campaign for a vote banned by Madrid on Thursday evening.   

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont (R) shakes hands with Catalan regional vice-President and chief of Economy and Finance, Oriol Junqueras. Photo: AFP

“Tell all those who doubt, that on October 1st they will face a very simple decision: don't opt for those who want to keep us in the dark, go out on the streets, take a ballot of which there will many,” Puigdemont said on stage in a former bullring.

“Vote, and in so doing bring light to darkness that has lasted for too many years,” he told the crowd that shouted “Independence,” “We will vote” and “We're not afraid.”

Organisers broadcast a campaign video that depicted the brilliant future of an independent Catalonia, free from “injustice”, “threats” and embracing “freedom”.

Tarragona won't participate

The event topped weeks of mounting tensions in Spain as Catalan leaders prepare a referendum on October 1st despite Madrid's ban and a court ruling that deems it illegal.

On Friday, Rajoy was due to meet members of his conservative Popular Party in Barcelona and was not expected to address any crowds.    

The pro-independence camp has two weeks to win over critics who are reluctant to take part in the referendum.   

In July, a poll commissioned by the regional government found that 49.4 percent of Catalans were against independence while 41.1 supported it. More than 70 percent, though, wanted a referendum to settle the matter.   

Outside the ring in Tarragona on Thursday — a city where pro-separatists are in the minority — a few critics mingled with hundreds of independence supporters who were unable to get in.

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Photo: AFP

“This isn't a government for all Catalans,” complained Josep Enric Sabate, a 44-year-old real estate entrepreneur.   

“This isn't for real, only supporters of independence will go vote, they will win and who knows what will happen after.”   

If they win, the separatists vow to declare independence within days for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, with its capital Barcelona, home to around 7.5 million people.

Parties that oppose secession will not take part in the campaign for the vote and have asked their supporters to boycott it.   

Carles Ruiz, the Socialist mayor of Viladecans, a town of 65,000 residents, denounced “pressure” on those mayors who refuse to participate in the referendum on social media or in person.

“Some post photos of the mayors or of their homes,” he told AFP. 

'Threats make us stronger'

Catalonia, which accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's economic output, already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.    

But Spain's economic worries, coupled with a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession from the fringes of Catalan politics to centre stage.

Catalans have nurtured a separate identity for centuries, but an independence movement surged recently as many became disillusioned with limitations on the autonomy they gained since the late 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, which had suppressed Catalan nationalism.   

Photo: AFP

The pro-separatist camp argues that a referendum represents their right to self-determination and has criticised what they see as heavy-handed measures by Madrid to stop the vote.

“The attitude of the state is so aggressive that no democrat can remain indifferent,” Ramon Pique, the coordinator of the campaign of the Catalan National Assembly, an influential pro-independence citizens group, told AFP.    

Spain's public prosecutor has ordered a criminal probe of the over 700 Catalan mayors who have so far agreed to help stage the referendum and threatened to arrest them if they do not turn up for questioning in court.   

Prosecutors have also ordered police to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any other item that could be used in the referendum and launched an official complaint against Puigdemont and other top Catalan officials over their referendum plans.

But this only appears to strengthen the resolve of pro-independence Catalans.

Oriol Junqueras, Catalonia's vice-president, told Thursday's gathering that more than 47,000 volunteers were willing to help out with the vote.    

“Threats make us stronger,” he said.    

But a question mark remains over Barcelona, Catalonia's biggest city run by Mayor Ada Colau, a left-wing former activist.   

On Thursday, she tweeted that people would be allowed to vote “without putting institutions or public workers at risk,” without detailing how this would actually happen.

By Daniel Bosque and Laurence Boutreux / AFP

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CATALONIA

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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