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In Catalonia, A Secessionist Takes Office And A Standoff Continues

Newly appointed Catalan leader Quim Torra (center) and other Catalan officials at Torra's ceremonial swearing-in on Thursday. Torra avoided promising to obey the constitution.
Alberto Estévez
AFP/Getty Images
Newly appointed Catalan leader Quim Torra (center) and other Catalan officials at Torra's ceremonial swearing-in on Thursday. Torra avoided promising to obey the constitution.

A supporter of Catalan secession has become the new leader of the restive region in Spain, in a ceremony that didn't mention any loyalty to the Spanish constitution or the Spanish king, El Pais reports.

Catalonia's stymied bid for independence last fall has triggered a monthslong deadlock — a crisis that sometimes feels like it's unfolding in slow motion.

Spain dissolved the regional government after ousting separatist regional President Carles Puigdemont and other leaders. Madrid had direct control of the region for months.

Now, Quim Torra's swearing-in brings an end to that era — but signals that there's no end in sight to the larger separatist fight.

In February, NPR's Lauren Frayer recapped the story so far:

"Catalonia has its own language and culture, and has long sought autonomy from the rest of Spain. It's Spain's richest region, and when the country's economic crisis hit a decade ago, many Catalans began to resent their tax money subsidizing poorer parts of Spain. Separatist politics moved from the fringe to the mainstream. ...

"This past autumn saw turmoil in Catalonia and its regional capital Barcelona, with daily street protests, general strikes and violence at polling stations Oct. 1, when separatists held an illegal independence vote and the central government deployed riot police to halt it. Madrid imposed emergency rule, firing local lawmakers and forcing fresh elections.

"Carles Puigdemont, the ex-president, went into exile in Belgium. Several of his aides went to jail.

"Tourism slumped. Thousands of companies moved their bases — at least on paper — out of Catalonia and into neighboring regions deemed more stable.

"After all that, Catalans voted in December for virtually the same regional parliament: A slim majority, 70 of 135 seats, was voted in for separatist parties. A quirky electoral system means rural votes count more than urban ones. But opinion polls show Catalans are roughly divided 50-50 on the question of independence."

With the secessionists back in power, Puidgemont first proposed governing Catalonia from exile, via Skype. That idea didn't fly. Then he suggested a pro-secession candidate, but he was disqualified because he was jailed by Madrid. An alternate leader was proposed, and promptly arrested by Spanish authorities.

Finally Puidgemont nominated Torra, who shares his separatist goals and had the advantage of being neither exiled nor incarcerated.

Torra says he intends to put Puidgemont back in power, Reuters reports. "I see myself as a caretaker president," Torra said, according to the wire service.

Torra was narrowly elected as the region's new regional leader, on Monday, El Pais reports.

His swearing-in included the Catalan flag but not the Spanish flag, and no members of the Spanish central government attended.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Madrid are considering charging Torra with hate speech for his allegedly xenophobic statements about Spaniards. The remarks include calling people "beasts" and saying that the Spanish "know only how to plunder," The Guardian reports.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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