Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down

Catalonia's parliamentary speaker said on Thursday that she would step down as she is investigated for sedition and rebellion over her role in the independence drive, the latest separatist leader to leave their post.

Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down
Carme Forcadell presiding over a parliamentary session in September.Photo: AFP

Speaking to reporters in Barcelona, staunchly pro-independence Carme Forcadell said she would not stay in the post despite having been offered to do so after regional elections on December 21st that saw separatist parties retain their absolute parliamentary majority.

“I think this new political moment requires a new person who is, above all else, free of legal proceedings,” she said.   

Forcadell was a key figure among Catalan leaders who attempted to break away from Spain, a process that culminated with the regional parliament declaring unilateral independence on October 27th.   

But this was short-lived as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.

Forcadell's decision to step down as parliamentary speaker — she will continue on as lawmaker — comes just two days after one of the main candidates to replace her announced he was leaving politics.

Carles Mundo, the former regional justice minister, is also being probed for sedition and rebellion, which could fetch up to 30 years in jail.   

That same day, Artur Mas, who as Catalan president from 2010 to 2016 was the instigator of the independence drive, announced he was stepping down as president of his PDeCAT party.

Artur Mas announced his resignation as president of the PdeCat party. Photo: AFP

He said he had taken the decision to make way for new people and to face the judicial cases against him.

Separatist parties have an absolute majority of 70 seats out of 135, but eight of their elected officials are either in self-imposed exile in Belgium or in jail in Spain.   

They want to elect Carles Puigdemont as president again, but in theory he would need to be present at the official parliamentary session where the vote takes place.

He is in Belgium, however, and will be arrested if he comes back to Spain on charges of rebellion and sedition.   

Separatist parties insist he be allowed to appear by videolink or write a speech and have someone else read it in the session, but the opposition insists that is illegal.

Ultimately, the parliamentary speaker and his or her deputies have the power to decide.


Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali's Foreign Minister said Saturday he had spoken with his Spanish counterpart after a row over comments the Spaniard made about the possibility of a NATO operation in the African country.

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop wrote in a tweet that he had spoken by phone with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares about the comments, which were made in a radio interview.

“He denied the remarks and expressed his attachment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali,” wrote Diop.

Spain moved to calm the row Saturday, a day after a day the military regime in Bamako had summoned their ambassador for an explanation.

“Spain did not ask during the NATO summit or at any other time for an intervention, mission or any action by the Alliance in Mali,” said a statement from Spain’s embassy.

The row blew up over remarks by Albares in an interview Thursday with Spain’s RNE radio. Asked if a NATO mission in Mali could be ruled out, Albares said: “No, we can’t rule it out.”

“It hasn’t been on the table at the talks in Madrid because this is a summit that is laying out, so to speak, the framework for NATO action.”

“If it were necessary and if there was to be a threat to our security, of course it would be done,” he added.

Albares was speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit as it drew to a close in Madrid. Diop had told state broadcaster ORTM on Friday that Bamako had summoned the Spanish ambassador to lodge a strong protest over the remarks.

READ ALSO: Nato apologises after hanging Spanish flag upside down at Madrid summit

“These remarks are unacceptable, unfriendly, serious,” said Diop, because “they tend to encourage an aggression against an independent and sovereign country”.

“We have asked for explanations, a clarification of this position from the Spanish government,” he added.

At the Madrid summit, Spain pushed hard to prioritise the topic of the threat to NATO’s southern flank caused by the unrest in the Sahel — the vast territory stretching across the south of Africa’s Sahara Desert, incorporating countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Jihadist attacks there are pushing increasing numbers of people to flee north towards Europe, with Spain one of the main points of entry there.

READ ALSO: Spain’s capital ramps up security to host Nato summit

At the summit, NATO acknowledged the alliance’s strategic interest in the Middle East, north Africa and the Sahel.

Mali has since 2012 been rocked by jihadist insurgencies. Violence began in the north and then spread to the centre and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.