Carles Puigdemont calls for dialogue with Madrid but says he will press on with plans for declaration of independence.
Catalonia’s president has accused King Felipe of Spain of acting as a mouthpiece for the Spanish government as the country wrestles with the region’s secession crisis and has vowed to press on with plans to declare independence over the next week.
Speaking three days after his government’s unilaterally held independence referendum was marred by police violence, Carles Puigdemont said Catalans were united as never before but added he was disappointed by the king’s recent intervention.
“The king endorses the discourse and policies of the government of [prime minister Mariano] Rajoy, which have been catastrophic for Catalonia and deliberately ignore the millions of Catalans who do not think like them,” he said.
Addressing himself directly to the king, he added: “Not like this. Your decision yesterday disappointed many people in Catalonia.”
Puigdemont repeated his calls for dialogue and mediation with Madrid but said his government was still planning to take the results of the referendum to the Catalan parliament over the next few days to prepare for a declaration of independence.
“I have to represent all of Catalonia’s citizens,” he said. “On Sunday we had a referendum under the most difficult circumstances and set an example of who we are. Peace and accord is part of who we are. We have to apply the results of the referendum. We have to present the results of the referendum to parliament.”
More than 900 people were injured after Spanish police attempted to halt the vote by raiding polling stations, beating would-be voters and firing rubber bullets at crowds.
Despite the Spanish authorities’ attempts to stop the referendum, which both the government and the country’s constitutional court had declared illegal, 2.26 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters took part. According to the Catalan government 90% of participants voted for the region to become independent.
The Spanish government was quick to respond. The deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said that Puigdemont had squandered an opportunity to steer the region back toward co-existence, adding: “If Mr Puigdemont wants to talk or negotiate or send mediators, he knows perfectly well what he needs to do: get back on the legal path that he should never have abandoned.”
Earlier on Wednesday the EU’s executive had called for the Spanish and Catalan governments to begin talks over the biggest political challenge Spain has faced since its return to democracy four decades ago – but said Madrid had the right to use “proportionate force” to uphold the law.
Addressing the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European commission, said the images emerging from Catalonia were saddening but it was clear that the regional government had “chosen to ignore the law” when organising the referendum.
“Let me be clear: violence does not solve anything in politics. It is never the answer, never a solution. It can never be used as a weapon or instrument,” he said. “Europe knows this better than anywhere else … It is a duty of any government to uphold the rule of law and this does sometimes require proportionate use of force.”
Timmermans said it was “time to talk” and backed the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to bring the dispute to a peaceful resolution. He said the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, was in touch with Rajoy but stressed that the vote on Sunday was “not legal” and it was “an internal matter”.
Puigdemont and other senior Catalan politicians, including the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, have called repeatedly for the EU to weigh in on the issue. “The European commission must encourage international mediation,” Puigdemont said on Monday. “It cannot look the other way any longer.”
Writing in the Guardian last week, Colau made a similar plea. “The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms,” she said. “Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.”
On Tuesday night King Felipe had said the Catalan authorities were attempting to break “the unity of Spain” and said their push for independence could put at risk the country’s social and economic stability.
In a rare and strongly worded television address he described the regional government’s actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over Catalan institutions, adding that it had placed itself outside democracy and the law.
Puigdemont has said Catalonia will not abandon its quest for independence and warned the Spanish government that any move to stop the independence process by using article 155 of the constitution to take control of the region could be the “ultimate mistake”.
On Wednesday Colau called for dialogue instead of threats. “Neither a unilateral declaration of independence nor 155,” she tweeted. “We need dialogue and bridges more than ever. Mediation and a jointly agreed referendum.”
On Tuesday thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the actions of some Guardia Civil and national police officers during the referendum.
Amnesty International said it had documented a “dangerous and disproportionate” use of police riot equipment on Sunday. “In several cases the actions of national police and civil guard officers involved excessive and unnecessary use of force and the dangerous use of riot control equipment, injuring hundreds of peaceful protesters,” said John Dalhuisen, the group’s Europe and central Asia director.