CATALONIA

More than 9,000 officers will police Spanish Cabinet meeting in Barcelona

Law enforcement is bracing for street protests planned by pro-independence groups for the arrival of Pedro Sánchez in Catalonia on December 21

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo.ULY MARTIN

More than 9,000 law enforcement officers will be on duty in Catalonia next Friday, when the Spanish Cabinet is scheduled to meet in Barcelona rather than at its usual location in Madrid.

Spanish government source

Members of four agencies – the Barcelona municipal police, the regional Mossos d’Esquadra force, the National Police and the Civil Guard – will be tasked with keeping the peace on a day when separatist groups are expected to stage public protests against the gathering and in favor of Catalan independence.

The self-styled “Committees for the Defense of the Republic” (CDR), a civic group that has carried out several protest acts in the region, is calling for a street “battle” on December 21. Via social networks and using the hashtag #TombemElRègim (“let’s overturn the regime”) they are calling on sympathizers to be outside Llotja de Mar, the meeting venue, “first thing in the morning.” One CDR poster reads: “On 21D we will be… ungovernable.”

“On 21D we will be ungovernable! Save the date and follow the official channels. Let’s take the streets! Let’s organize the response and prepare to resist!”

Besides the potential street protests, Madrid is concerned about the kind of support it can expect from the Catalan government, whose separatist leader Quim Torra last week defended “the Slovenian way” as a model for Catalan independence. His statements were widely construed as a defense of violence, as Slovenia went through a 10-day war that caused dozens of casualties as it separated from Yugoslavia.

On Thursday, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo sent a letter to her Catalan counterpart, Pere Aragonés, asking for “maximum cooperation” in organizing the Cabinet meeting.

Earlier this week, Madrid sent additional letters warning that if the regional government was unable to guarantee public safety on December 21, it would send National Police and Civil Guards to do the job. The Spanish Interior Ministry has told a thousand officers to be ready for duty in Barcelona between December 18 and 23.

The Catalan regional government has since stated that the security of the Cabinet meeting must be guaranteed. Sources at the Mossos d’Esquadra said that around 8,000 officers will be on duty. A few days earlier, the Catalan government had described Madrid’s decision to hold its weekly gathering in Catalonia as “a provocation.”

The wisdom of holding the Cabinet meeting in downtown Barcelona was also questioned by a central government minister, José Luis Ábalos, but Deputy PM Calvo has confirmed that the meeting will go ahead as planned.

Polarization

E. P.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is taking the Cabinet meeting to Barcelona against a backdrop of growing social polarization. While pro-independence groups have ramped up their street action to “take down the regime,” down in Andalusia a far-right party called Vox made unprecedented inroads at the recent regional elections, earning 12 seats on a platform that supports re-centralizing Spain. Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE), which has governed in Andalusia for 36 years, did poorly and now stands to lose power in Spain’s most populous region.

The election is also being viewed as a sign of things to come when the country holds local, regional and European elections next year. And a snap national election is also a possibility if Sánchez – who leads a minority government that relies on support from other parties, including Catalan nationalists – is unable to push through his 2019 budget blueprint.

Sources at La Moncloa, the seat of government, said that the meeting will take place inside Llotja de Mar, a historic building in the heart of the city, because it sends out the message to people that “their government is there.”

The Mossos wanted to move the gathering to Albéniz Palace, located far from the city center on Montjuïc mountain, for security reasons, but government sources said that “if we’re going to be on a mountaintop, we might as well stay in Madrid.”

In her Thursday letter to Catalan authorities, Calvo also suggested a face-to-face meeting between Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan leader Quim Torra on Friday of next week. “It would be convenient for both to hold a meeting to return to the path of constructive dialogue that must cement the relationship between our governments,” reads the letter.

The Catalan executive has not closed the door on the possibility, as long as the one-on-one is “not purely about protocol.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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