CATALAN BID FOR INDEPENDENCE

“Mas thinks he’s the sole defender of democracy,” says deputy PM

Santamaría calls Catalan chief’s non-cooperation in court “an absolute atrocity”

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría answers questions during a news conference on Friday following a Cabinet meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría answers questions during a news conference on Friday following a Cabinet meeting.Gorka Lejarcegi / EL PAÍS

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on Friday criticized Catalan premier Artur Mas for not responding to a prosecutor’s questions after he was called into court to explain his involvement in the organization of an informal referendum on independence for the northeastern region last year.

“I think Mas believes he is sole defender of democracy, but I say democracy involves following the law and respecting the judiciary,” the deputy prime minister told reporters after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Democracy involves following the law and respecting the judiciary” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría

She called Mas’s refusal to answer questions in court an “absolute atrocity.”

Santamaría’s statements reflect the central government’s frustration regarding the ongoing tense political situation in Catalonia.

On Thursday, thousands of pro-independence supporters turned out to support Mas as he arrived at the Barcelona courthouse. At a news conference later, the Catalan leader described the legal action filed against him as a politically motivated move and said the consultation held on November 9 was “a political decision.”

He also assumed all responsibility for organizing the vote, and said that his former deputy, Joana Ortega, and regional education chief Irene Rigau, who also both face disobedience charges, should not be held accountable.

Santamaría reiterated on numerous occasions that “all Spaniards” in Spain and Catalonia, including Mas, “are subjected to the law and the courts.”

“With what power and strength can he demand that Catalans respect the rules of their regional parliament when he himself doesn’t even respect the laws?” she asked.

When met with a hypothetical question about whether the government would move to apply an article of the Constitution that would allow the central government to suspend the Catalan government’s powers, the deputy prime minister said such an action would require the backing of Congress.

In recent weeks, some lawmakers have publicly discussed enacting Article 155 of the Constitution

In recent weeks, several political leaders and lawmakers have publicly discussed enacting Article 155, which states that the central government could “take the measures necessary in order to compel” a region to “fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws.”

Under the clause, the government, with the Senate’s approval, could order instructions “to all authorities” in a region if local leaders act in a way that “seriously prejudices the general interests of Spain.”

English version by Martin Delfín.

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