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INDEPENDENCE

Hardline separatist Torra appointed leader of Catalonia

Quim Torra, a newcomer to politics who has campaigned fiercely for Catalonia's independence, was appointed regional president Monday vowing to keep fighting for a break from Spain.

Hardline separatist Torra appointed leader of Catalonia
The new elected Catalan regional president Quim Torra (C) is congratulated by members of his Junts per Catalonia. Photo: AFP

Torra's election by the regional parliament paves the way for a new government in Catalonia after months of political limbo.   

Analysts warn the road ahead will be rocky as he faces rifts within the separatist camp and Catalans remain deeply split over leaving Spain.   

Torra, handpicked as presidential candidate by deposed, exiled leader Carles Puigdemont, scraped through the parliamentary vote — 66 separatist lawmakers voted for him, 65 non-independence MPs against and four abstained.   

“We will build a Catalan republic,” he said after the vote, as lawmakers sang Catalonia's anthem “Els Segadors” (“The Reapers” in English).   

The 55-year-old father of three pledged to respect the result of an independence referendum, which was held on October 1 despite a court ban and marred by police violence.

Catalan separatist authorities said 90 percent of the 2.2 million people who cast their ballot in the referendum — out of 5.5 million eligible voters — opted to break from Spain.

Puigdemont's pick

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for “understanding and harmony” but warned that he would not tolerate any breaking of the law and Spain's constitution.

The formation of a new government will automatically lift direct rule imposed by Madrid on October 27 after separatist lawmakers made a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence.

In a bid to end the biggest political crisis to hit Spain in decades, Rajoy called snap regional elections for December which separatist parties won as the secessionist movement in Catalonia showed no sign of dying down.   

But since then, the presidential candidates put forward by the separatist camp had all fallen flat as they were either in jail in Spain over their role in the secession bid or in self-exile.

Torra, who was elected to the Catalan parliament in December on Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list, finally made it through as he has no legal woes.

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Yellow ribbons in support of jailed Catalan separatist leaders are displayed on seats at the Catalan parliament. Photo: AFP

Puigdemont, who was deposed by Madrid last October, was shown on Catalan television watching Torra's speech on a laptop from Germany where he awaits a court decision on whether to extradite him to Spain.

He faces jail on rebellion charges for last year's secession bid if he returns.

In an interview published Saturday by Italian daily La Stampa, Puigdemont said Torra, as his designated successor, “takes power in provisional conditions and he is aware of that. From October 27th, he will be able to call new elections”.

 

Ines Arrimadas, leader in Catalonia of the centrist, anti-independence Ciudadanos party, has branded Torra a mere “puppet” for Puigdemont.

Crisis not over

Torra tried — and failed — to be appointed on Saturday at an initial parliamentary vote that required an absolute majority.

During Monday's session, in which he only needed a simple majority, he outlined his new government's plans for education, health and employment.   


Mossos D'Esquadra officers (Catalan regional police) present arms as the new elected Catalan regional president Quim Torra (L) leaves the Catalan parliament after his election. Photo: AFP

On Saturday, he had focused entirely on independence.   

During that speech, he lambasted European institutions for their “unacceptable silence” over the Catalan crisis. 

He also said a “Republican council” would be created abroad in parallel, presided by Puigdemont, as well as an assembly composed of local officials.   

Torra has received strong criticism for some of his past articles and tweets.

He once described Spain as “a country that exports misery” or slammed those who do not defend the Catalan language and culture as “scavengers, vipers and hyenas.”

A tweet he posted in 2012 said: “Spaniards only know how to plunder.”   

He has since apologised.

Problems ahead

Torra faces divisions within the separatist camp, composed of the small, radical CUP party, the leftwing ERC party and the Together for Catalonia grouping, according to Antonio Barroso, deputy research director at Teneo Intelligence.

Barroso said the ERC wants a moderate approach to avoid a clampdown by Madrid and to play a longer independence game.   

“In contrast, Puigdemont's strategy is to continue using every opportunity… to continue challenging the Spanish authorities and keep the secessionist momentum alive.”

For Oriol Bartomeus, politics professor at Barcelona Autonomous University, the region risks having “a divided government — there could be fallout”.

   By Daniel Bosque / 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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