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CATALONIA

Spain seizes control of ‘independent’ Catalonia

Spain moved Saturday to assert direct rule over Catalonia, replacing its executive and top officials to quash an independence drive that has pushed the country into uncharted waters and sent shock waves through Europe.

Spain seizes control of 'independent' Catalonia
Photo: AFP

As thousands rallied in Madrid in support for Spanish unity, a government notice officially deposed regional leader Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras.

The announcement placed Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria in charge of administering the region.

It is the first time the central government has curtailed autonomy in the region since dictator Francisco Franco's repressive 1939-75 rule.

Madrid also fired regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, pictured below, seen as an ally of Catalonia's separatist leaders, and put the interior ministry in charge of his department in a move likely to further escalate tensions in Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

A day after Catalan lawmakers voted to break with Spain, the regional and national flags still fluttered side by side over the seat of the Generalitat, the name for the regional government.

The streets of Barcelona were largely empty after a night of firework-lit celebrations, and security was reinforced around the regional headquarters of the national police.

Some 3,000 people gathered on Madrid's central Plaza Colon, waving the Spanish flag as loudspeakers blared the popular song “Y viva Espana” (long live Spain).

A small child was pushed by its father in a buggy sporting a sign proclaiming: “Together”, and some in the crowd wave placards calling for Puigdemont to be jailed.

“It is a shame what happened in Catalonia,” lamented anti-secessionist protester Carlos Fernandez, a 41-year-old mining engineer.

Competing rallies

Moving to quash what he termed an “escalation of disobedience”, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded to Friday's Catalan vote by assuming sweeping powers granted to him by the Senate under a never-before-used constitutional article designed to rein in rebels among Spain's 17 regions.

He fired the government and parliament and called December 21 elections to replace them.

On Saturday, Rajoy added Trapero, the highest-ranking officer in the Mossos d'Esquadra police force, to the list of heads to roll.

Trapero is accused by Madrid of disobeying court orders to block a banned October 1 independence referendum.

Instead, the ballot was disrupted, sometimes violently, by officers from Spain's national police and Guardia Civil paramilitary forces.

All eyes this weekend will be on whether Puigdemont and his team will willingly step aside for caretaker envoys from Madrid. Puigdemont has not spoken out publicly since Rajoy's announcement.

Saenz de Santamaria is due to meet Saturday with secretaries of state who will likely take charge of Catalonia's regional ministries.

'Force of argument'

The move to usurp Catalonia's wide-ranging powers is likely to anger many in the region of some 7.5 million people that enjoyed considerable autonomy, with control over education, healthcare and police.

Independence supporters have warned they will resist the temporary measures.

“We won't cave in to Rajoy's authoritarianism nor to 155,” the far-left CUP party, a Puigdemont ally, tweeted on Friday.

A motion to declare Catalonia a “republic” was passed Friday with 70 votes out of 135 in the regional parliament, where pro-secessionists hold sway.

Opposition politicians had stormed out in protest before the vote was cast.

Catalan leaders point to a “Yes” result in the deeply-divisive October 1 referendum as a mandate for independence, even though less than half of registered electors turned out.

Summarising widely-held fears, Federico Santi, Europe analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, warned the crisis could become violent, with “more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists.”

The Spanish government has received unwavering support from the United States and its allies in the European Union.

The bloc is increasingly wary of nationalistic and secessionist sentiment,particularly after Britain's dramatic decision last year to leave the bloc.

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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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