Irish Republican News · September 17, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Spain fights back against surge for independence
Spain fights back against surge for independence

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Sinn Fein has condemned a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court to back a ruling that Basque separatist politician Arnaldo Otegi cannot run as a candidate in an upcoming regional election due to a conviction against him for links to the armed group ETA.

A provincial electoral commission ruled two weeks ago that he may not run as a candidate for First Minister in the Basque regional elections on September 25. Mr Otegi had been banned from holding or running for public office until 2021 in tandem with a six-year jail sentence for belonging to ETA.

“We won’t accept that the state says who can and who can’t represent the Basque people,” he said in a television interview following the ruling.

The decision to bar him was praised by Spanish right wing. “This is very good news,” said Fernando Martinez Maillo of the governing Popular Party, who described Mr Otegi as “a terrorist”. But Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party, said: “Basques are the ones who should decide who represents them in parliament.”

Many prominent international figures, including Desmond Tutu and Gerry Adams, have voiced opposition to Mr Otegi’s most recent jail sentence and its political motivations.

Sinn Fein described Mr Otegi as an internationally respected leader of the Basque people who had been instrumental in developing the Basque peace strategy and process.

“Spanish Government policies of censorship, marginalisation and isolation are wrong. They are counter productive and will not work,” it said.

“Instead of trying to deny Arnaldo Otegi the right to seek a mandate from the Basque people the Spanish Government needs should instead promote and support a process of dialogue to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Basque Country.”

Mr Adams said the latest ruling by the Spanish Constitutional Court is “an unhelpful decision that undermines democracy and the Basque peace process.

“Since the 1990s, Arnaldo has been acknowledged as the leader of the Basque pro-independence political movement, and is also undisputedly the leader of the Basque peace process. He has faced unrelenting political persecution by Spanish authorities, and this latest decision is just another example of that treatment,” he said.

“I want to extend the continued solidarity of Sinn Fein to Arnaldo and offer him our full support in his efforts to develop the Basque peace process, which the Spanish government have failed to engage with thus far.”

HUGE DEMONSTRATIONS

In a separate development, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Catalonia last Sunday, September 11, to support a break from Spain which local leaders want to deliver for next year in spite of legal blocks by the central government.

Catalans gathered in five cities across the northeastern region, including Barcelona, and waved yellow banners in time to music, symbolizing the rhythm of a beating heart uniting an independent republic.

Police said that in Barcelona alone about 540,000 people took part. The mass rally on Catalonia’s national day, La Diada, came as the pro-independence local assembly vowed to press ahead with plans to form a new state in 2017, raising pressure on leaders in Madrid.

Two inconclusive general elections have left Spain without a new national administration for more than eight months, in part due to squabbling among parties over how best to defeat the separatist challenges.

Spain’s conservative caretaker government has firmly opposed any move towards secession in Catalonia or the Basque country, and resorted to challenges via the constitutional court

“We don’t really care anymore about who will govern in Madrid,” said Montse Pedra, 39, a speech therapist at the rally in Barcelona, where campaigners waved the starred blue, red and yellow pro-independence flags.

She said she was no longer hopeful Catalonia would be granted a referendum on independence like Scotland’s in 2014 - where people voted to remain in Britain - but was looking beyond that.

“Here that’s not going to happen one way or another, so we’re going to just declare independence, and that’s it,” she added.

© 2016 Irish Republican News