Mariano Rajoy testifies in Catalan separatists’ trial

Spain's former prime minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday he "deplored" police violence during an illegal independence referendum in Catalonia, but blamed it on separatist leaders as he testified at their trial.

Mariano Rajoy testifies in Catalan separatists' trial
Former Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy arrives to the Supreme Court in Madrid to testify. Photo: AFP

Rajoy governed Spain from 2011 until he was ousted in June last year by a no-confidence vote over a corruption trial that hit his conservative Popular Party (PP). 

He was in power when Catalonia's executive tried to secede in 2017.

The 63-year-old appeared in Madrid's Supreme Court as a highly-anticipated witness in the trial of 12 separatist leaders and activists — nine of them facing rebellion charges — for pushing the referendum in October 2017 and for a subsequent short-lived declaration of independence.

READ MORE Catalan separarists' trial: What you need to know

“I really deplore those images, I don't like them,” he told the court about footage of police violence against voters.   

But “if people hadn't been called to an illegal referendum and if decisions hadn't been taken that violated the law, neither you nor I nor anyone would have had to see the injuries suffered by some people and some members of the state security forces.”

Earlier, he defiantly told the court that separatist leaders “were fully aware that… as long as Mariano Rajoy was prime minister, there would be no (legal) referendum to liquidate national sovereignty.”

He described the attempt to break with Spain as “an exceptional situation”, demonstrated by the fact that he had to impose direct rule on the semi-autonomous region for the first time in Spanish democracy.

Earlier, Catalonia's former separatist president Artur Mas criticised the decision by Madrid to send police to stop people from voting in the referendum.   

Mas stepped down in January 2016 before the secession bid, but was close to those who led the attempt.

“I said (at the time): 'Do you really think that the state will be so unintelligent to do something that will harm it directly with regards to its image in the whole world?',” he told the court.   

“I confess I was wrong because that was the option.”

'Dramatic moment' 

Critics accuse Rajoy of having fuelled pro-independence passions in Catalonia. Support for separatism in the wealthy northeastern region leapt from 10 percent of voters in 2010 to 47.5 percent in 2017 — much of it under his mandate.

Even before he came to power, Rajoy had campaigned as opposition leader against a new, agreed status for the region that gave it extra powers and defined it as a “nation” within the Spanish state.   

The Constitutional Court eventually overruled the nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence passions.

“His appearance is very important because he headed” the country before, during and after Catalonia's secession bid, said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid's Complutense University.

It also comes as political debate in Spain becomes increasingly virulent ahead of snap general elections on April 28 where the Catalan secession crisis is a burning issue.

Before Rajoy's appearance, Joan Botella, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, had predicted he would “have to respond to the question: why did he never sit down to talk” to the separatists?

And indeed he did, retorting that “the most important proposal he made was to stop violating the constitution.”

 No longer in politics

Prosecutors are seeking seven to 25 years jail for the 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists.

They are being tried for pushing an independence referendum in October 2017 in defiance of a court ban, and for a subsequent short-lived declaration of independence on October 27th.

That prompted Rajoy's government to sack the Catalan executive, dissolve the regional parliament, impose direct rule on the semi-autonomous region and call snap local elections.

Several days later, Catalonia's then leader Carles Puigdemont fled Spain for Belgium along with several other colleagues. Other separatist leaders were put in pre-trial custody.

That prompted Rajoy's deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, who is also due to testify on Wednesday, to say her party had “beheaded” the independence movement.

But in the regional elections in December 2017, separatist parties once again won a majority in parliament.

Months later in June, Rajoy left politics “for good” after being ousted.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux















Rajoy governed Spain from 2011 until he was ousted in June last year by a no-confidence vote over a corruption trial that hit his conservative Popular Party (PP) and he was replaced by socialist rival PedroSanchez.

“His appearance is very important because he headed” the country before, during and after Catalonia's regional government attempted to break from Spain in October 2017, said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid's Complutense University.

“As a witness, he has to tell the truth.”   

It “won't leave anyone indifferent,” she said as political debate becomes increasingly virulent ahead of snap general elections in April and European, municipal and regional polls in May.


The 63-year-old is due to appear in court at 4:00 pm local time (1500 GMT).   

He was called to the stand by far-right party Vox, which is taking part in the trial as the “popular prosecution,” a set-up specific to Spain that allows any citizen or organisation to be an accuser in court alongside public 

He will be questioned first by Vox representatives and defence lawyers.

'Didn't do politics'

Critics accuse Rajoy of having fuelled pro-independence passions, with support for separatism in the northeastern region leaping from 10 percent of votes in 2010 to 47.5 percent in 2017 — much of it under his mandate.   

Even before he came to power, Rajoy had campaigned as opposition leader against a new, agreed status for the region that gave it extra powers and defined it as a “nation” within the Spanish state.

The Constitutional Court eventually overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence passions.

Rajoy's appearance “may be a key and dramatic moment of the trial,” said Joan Botella, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.   

He “will try to reject any responsibility” but “will have to respond to the question: why did he never sit down to talk” to the separatists?   

“Rajoy didn't do politics, he resorted to the law,” said Fernando Vallespin, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.   

He said Rajoy was “always turning to the Constitutional Court to put a brake on the separatists' initiatives.”

“The left criticises him for not having tried to resolve the problem politically” and “the right for not having acted sooner” against the separatist movement, Vallespin said.


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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