Catalan former ministers held in Spanish jails

Eight former Catalan ministers who were recently sacked by the Spanish government have received prison sentences by a high court judge. Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four other dismissed Catalan ministers who have been residing in Brussels since monday had also been summoned but didn’t show up in the Spanish high court – known as the Audiencia Nacional. Ousted government officials have been accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

Those affected by the judge’s decision are former Vice President Oriol Junqueras and former ministers Jordi Turull, Raúl Romeva, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa, Meritxell Borrás, Joaquim Forn y Carles Mundó, who could be looking at prison sentences of up to 48 years. A ninth official, ex-Business Minister Santi Vila, was granted bail at the request of prosecutors due to his resignation from the Catalan government before the regional parliament voted for independence last Friday.

In a statement broadcasted on Catalan television, Puigdemont described the detention of the former officials as an “act that breaks with the basic principles of democracy”. He also demanded the “release of the ministers and the vice-president”. Catalan political parties and civic groups condemned the judicial move, while thousands of people gathered outside the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, demanding that they be freed.


Update: Reactions on New York truck attack

The terrorist attack, which left eight people dead and a dozen injured, took place in Lower Manhattan when a pick-up truck rammed into cyclists and pedestrians just blocks away from the World Trade Center.

The assault has brought reactions from all around the world.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident a “cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians”. “But […] New Yorkers are resilient and our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence and an act meant to intimidate us”, he said

American President Donald Trump spoke out on Twitter, condemning the attack which had been carried out by a “very sick and deranged person”. He also announced he had ordered the Extreme Vetting Program – a ban on arrivals to the US from a number of mainly-muslim countries – to be stepped up.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, told White House officials his country was ready to “use all forces and resources” necessary to help investigate the incident. The man resposible for the attack is thought to be of Uzbek nationality.

Several countries in the Middle East also denounced the aggression. Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the truck attack in New York, referring to it as a “terrorist” assault. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said in a statement that “a serious approach coinciding with honesty and transparency of all nations” is the only way to “uproot” terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, The United Arab Emirates and Qatar were also amongst those asian countries to offer their solidarity and condolences to the US.

In Europe, France’s Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe said the deadly truck attack is a reminder that the threat is high everywere, and authorities must remain “determined” to fight extremism.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, took to Twitter to send their condolences to the victims of the assault.

Five of those killed were from Argentina and another was belgian. Three other belgian citizens were injured, while another was german.

Catalan independence update: Rajoy dissolves catalan parliament

Following today’s declaration of independence by Catalonia, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy promised to undertake certain decisions that would take the region “back to legality”. Only a couple hours later, Rajoy appeared in front of the media to announce the dissolution of the catalan regional administration and the calling for elections, which are to take place on the 21st of december. The central government also ceased Carles Puigdemont from his role as Catalan president, along with vice-president Oriol Junqueras and the rest of the administrative cabinet. Instead, the control of catalan jurisdiction will be taken over by Madrid.

According to Rajoy, this package of exceptional measures will allow Spain to recover control of the breakaway region. He said the moves were needed to restore legality, after a political and constitutional crisis that has gripped the country for months.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain today. The motion was supported by an owerwhelming majority of members of parliament, with 70 voting in favor, 10 against and 2 absenties in the 135-seat chamber. Opposition parties – including the Popular Party, the Catalan Socialist Party and Citizens – opted to boycott the vote by leaving the assembly before it took place. Parties in favor of the resolution announced their intention of establishing a “Catalan Republic as an independent, sovereign, democratic, social State”.

The decision by the catalan parliament prompted the spanish Senate to vote in favor of passing Article 155 of the Constitution, which gives Madrid direct rule of the disputed territory. Under this extraordinary status, the spanish administration would have jurisdiction of catalan media, police force and economy, as well as power to sack Carles Puigdemont and his ministers from the regional government. Mariano Rajoy has urged spanish citizens to remain calm, saying that decisions will be taken to make sure the region goes “back to legality”.

At an international level, the European Union has backed Madrid in the handling of the situation. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has stated that Spain remain its only interlocutor, while also insisting on Rajoy the importance of “force of argument”, rather than the “argument of force”. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany have also voiced their support for the spanish government.

After the vote took place, Puigdemont urged catalans to “stay strong”, acknowledging that the path ahead would not be easy. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in support of the result, following his words with applause and repeating chants of “freedom, freedom.”

Lombardy and Veneto vote in favor of more autonomy

Two referendums took place yesterday in the italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto. The vote allowed the people of these northern territories to decide whether they wanted more regional autonomy. Up to 95% of the voters supported the change in Lombardy – with around 40% participation, while this figure rose to 98% in its eastern neighbor – with almost 60% participation.

The result means that these wealthy territories – which include cities like Milan, Verona and Venice – will ask the central government for more finance and jurisdiction. Lucas Zaia, president of Veneto, has already stated that he will send a negotiation offer to the government in Rome where he will request the control of education, health, international relations and environment – amongst others – to be transfered to the regional administration. Meanwhile, the lombardan president, Roberto Marino, has described the negotiations which are to take place as the “battle of the century”.

“Czech Trump” wins country’s elections

Andrej Babis is set to become the Czech Republic’s next prime minister after winning last night’s legislative elections. Babis, dubbed by local media as the “Czech Trump” due to his business empire and populist campaign, ran as leader of his centrist movement ANO, which received over 30% of the vote – almost three times more than the next party. The 63-year-old campaigned on an anti-establishment platform, opposed adoption of the euro and took a hard stance on immigration.

In spite of receiving 78 seats, ANO will have to negotiate a coalition with other parties in order to form a government and secure a majority in the lower chamber of Parliament. The centre-right Civic Democrats, who came second with 25 seats, are ANO’s only option of forming a two-party coalition, but have already talked down possibilities of this scenario. The Pirate Party, lead by Ivan Baros, will make their debut in Parliament with 22 seats. The far-right SPD and the Communist Party finished in 4th and 5th place, respectively. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), who had been in government since 2013, lost more than half of its electorate, obtaining just 9% of the vote.

Babis is the country’s second-richest man, and has made his estimated $4bn fortune in chemicals, food and media. Nonetheless, he has also faced numerous scandals and problems with justice, including tax evasion and corruption accusations. The billionaire stated during the election campaign that the media was behind an “anti-Babis conspiracy”. After the results were published, Babis thanked his voters and said he had not expected the result after “the lies” in a “massive disinformation campaign” against his party.

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