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POLITICS

Spain will ‘never’ allow independence vote in Catalonia: PM

Spain's ruling Socialists will "never" allow an independence referendum in Catalonia, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday, as his government prepares to resume negotiations with Catalan separatists.

Spain will 'never' allow independence vote in Catalonia: PM
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Photo JOHN THYS/AFP

His comments come a week after nine Catalan political leaders were pardoned and freed from jail for their part in the northeastern region’s failed push for independence in 2017.

“There will be no referendum on self-determination,” Sanchez told parliament, saying his Socialist party would “never accept this type of deviation.”

He stressed that the only way to hold such a vote would be for supporters to convince three-fifths of the lower house to modify the Spanish
constitution, and for Spain as a whole to ratify this change via a referendum.

This would currently be impossible as the three biggest political groupings in the lower house — the socialists, conservative Popular Party and far-right Vox — are opposed to such a reform.

Sanchez’s comments come just a day after his first official meeting with Catalonia’s new regional president Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist.

Aragones said that negotiations between Madrid and the Catalan separatists, who want to hold an independence referendum, would resume in September.

Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain in 2017 provoked one of the worst political crises in Spain since the end of Francisco Franco’s military dictatorship in 1975.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) welcomes Catalan regional president Pere Aragones at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid on June 29, 2021. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The leaders of the rich region in Spain, which has a population of 7.8 million people, defied a government ban to organise an independence referendum.

In response, Madrid’s conservative government sent in the police to stop the referendum, and when the region’s leaders declared independence a few weeks later, they sacked them and suspended Catalonia’s autonomy.

Nine Catalan leaders were jailed for between nine and 13 years.

Sanchez’s recent decision to free the jailed Catalan leaders has been fiercely criticised by the conservative opposition.

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NATO

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.

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