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Exiled Puigdemont abandons bid to return as Catalan leader

In self-exile in Belgium and wanted in Spain, Catalonia's deposed leader Carles Puigdemont abandoned his bid to return as regional president Thursday in an attempt to unblock the region's political crisis.

Exiled Puigdemont abandons bid to return as Catalan leader
Photo: AFP

“I will not put myself forward as candidate to be appointed regional  president,” Puigdemont announced solemnly from Belgium in a video posted on social media, standing in front of Catalan and EU flags.

The 55-year-old called for a new candidate to be chosen “as soon as possible” from Catalonia's separatist bloc, which won December elections in a region deeply divided over independence.

This could pave the way for Catalonia to get a fully-functioning government and regain its autonomy after Madrid took full control of the Spanish region over its October secession bid.   

Madrid welcomed Puigdemont's move, with a Spanish government source, saying Catalonia needed “to have a regional president as soon as possible”.

Jailed leader?

Vowing to continue drawing the global community's attention to Catalonia'a cause, as separatists accuse Madrid of repression in its crackdown, Puigdemont said his lawyers had taken the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

He also put forward Jordi Sanchez, head of the ANC, a hugely influential pro-independence citizens' group, as his preferred choice to lead Catalonia forward.

READ: Separatists mull appointing jailed politician as Catalan president

This is likely to be difficult, however, as Sanchez has been in prison for more than four months as he is probed for sedition, one of four separatists in jail over their role in the independence drive.

Sanchez stands accused of encouraging a major protest in September as Spanish police raided the Catalan administration's economic offices in the run-up to a banned independence referendum on October 1st.

Marred by police violence, Catalan authorities say turnout in the vote was around 43 percent, of which 90 percent backed independence, even if Madrid dismissed the referendum.

Weeks later, separatist lawmakers declared independence on October 27th.   

The Spanish government moved in immediately, stripping Catalonia of its prized autonomy, sacking its separatist government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections on December 21st.

Puigdemont left for Belgium shortly after the independence declaration and was charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.   

But he still ran in the December polls from abroad, leading the separatist bloc to victory as they retained their absolute majority in parliament.

'Won't give up'

After the regional election Puigdemont remained the separatists' favoured candidate to lead Catalonia again. He argued he could govern the region remotely, with the help of super-fast new technologies.

But Spain's Constitutional Court made his appointment conditional on his physical presence in the regional capital Barcelona, with permission from a judge.

Faced with these obstacles, the Catalan parliament's speaker — also a separatist — postponed a key assembly vote to reappoint Puigdemont as president in January.

Since then, separatist parties had been locked in tense talks as to how to go forward.

Suggestions had started to emerge that Puigdemont could be given a “symbolic” role in Belgium while another candidate would be picked to lead Catalonia from Barcelona.

On Thursday, Catalonia's majority separatist parliament approved a motion defending him as the “legitimate” candidate for the regional presidency — a move widely seen as a way to encourage him to step aside without losing face.   

The motion also stated that the separatists were “favourable to the constitution of Catalonia as an independent state.”   

In his online video, Puigdemont said he was renouncing his bid to lead Catalonia again so that the region could get a new government and shake off direct rule from Madrid.

“We won't surrender, we won't give up,” he said.   

“I know that the path we have ahead is long and fraught with difficulties.”

By AFP's Daniel Bosque 

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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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