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Sacked Catalan president accuses Spain of being undemocratic

Catalonia's sacked separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Monday denounced Spain as an undemocratic country that "unjustly" jailed his colleagues, his first reaction since he was freed on bail in Belgium.

Sacked Catalan president accuses Spain of being undemocratic
This file photo shows Puigdemont addressing the Press Club in Brussels on October 31st. Photo: AFP

Puigdemont and four former ministers were released with conditions on Sunday night after turning themselves in to Belgian authorities to face a Spanish warrant for their arrest on charges of rebellion and sedition.

“Released without bail. Our thoughts are with colleagues unjustly imprisoned by a state that is far from democratic norms,” Puigdemont said on Twitter hours after the five were released. 

En llibertat i sense fiança. El nostre pensament és per als companys injustament empresonats per un Estat allunyat d la pràctica democràtica

— Carles Puigdemont ? (@KRLS) November 6, 2017

   A Spanish judge in Madrid had on Thursday put Puigdemont's deputy and seven other deposed regional ministers behind bars because of a risk they would flee.

Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders insisted it was a legal matter and not one for politicians to deal with, despite recent criticism of Spain from some Flemish separatist members of his own government.

“We must let the Belgian and Spanish courts do their work,” Reynders told his country's media.

Puigdemont and his allies escaped to Belgium a week ago after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region following the declaration of independence by the parliament there last month.

Surrendered to justice

Spain issued European arrest warrants on Friday after Puigdemont and his allies ignored a summons to appear before a judge on allegations linked to the move to declare Catalonia an independent state.

Puigdemont's PDeCAT party said Sunday that he had turned himself in to show his “willingness not to flee from the judicial process but to defend himself in a fair and impartial process, which is possible in Belgium, and highly doubtful in Spain”.

The next court hearing will be in the following 15 days. Belgium has up to 60 days to decide whether to send the Catalans back to Spain.

Puigdemont, who still describes himself as Catalonia's “president,” has also said he is willing to run as a candidate in the December 21st regional election called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to “restore normality” to Catalonia.

Puigdemont has said he and his colleagues — Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig and Clara Ponsati — would cooperate with the Belgian authorities, some of whom are sympathetic to the ousted Catalan leaders.

“In Belgium they release us without bail, while in Spain we would be jailed,” Serret said on Twitter.

Puigdemont admitted last week that he had gone to Belgium partly in a bid to take the Catalan issue to the heart of the European Union, which has so far backed Madrid over the crisis.

Belgian tensions

But the case has caused tensions both between Belgium and Madrid, as well as within the government of Belgium, a country divided between French- and Flemish-speaking populations.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, questioned why the EU has failed to denounce the harsh crackdown by one of its 28 member states.

“I see there is a deafening silence everywhere,” Jambon told Flemish VRT television Sunday, referring to Spain's jailing separatist leaders and clubbing “peaceful people” who voted in a banned October 1st independence referendum.

He accused the EU of double standards by taking legal action against the right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary for allegedly defying democratic norms.

Puigdemont, 54, insists that Catalonia earned the right to declare independence following the referendum and has described his detained colleagues as “political prisoners”.

On Sunday, protesters in Catalan cities took to the streets to demand their release.

Puigdemont said he was not convinced by guarantees of a fair trial back home, denouncing the “enormous pressure and political influence on judicial power in Spain.”

The judge could “refuse to hand over Puigdemont if there is a proven serious risk to his fundamental rights,” said Anne Weyembergh, president of the Institute of European Studies at the Free University of Brussels.

She said the court would need to see evidence of criminal offences before executing the warrant.

But cases of refusal are rare, according to several lawyers interviewed by 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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