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Ahead Of Talks With Spain, Catalonia Set To Celebrate National Day



Ahead Of Talks With Spain, Catalonia Set To Celebrate National Day

Catalonia’s deeply divided separatist movement will put its mobilisation skills to the test on Saturday as the northeastern region celebrates its national day ahead of fresh talks with Spain’s government.

The annual “Diada” on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and normally draws vast crowds of more than one million people.

This year’s celebrations will be the first since Spain pardoned nine separatist leaders who were serving long jail terms over their involvement in a failed 2017 independence bid.

Under the slogan, “We will fight for independence and win”, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement, is planning to march through Barcelona in an annual rally that at its peak brought 1.5 million people onto the streets.

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But many things have changed since the frenetic autumn of 2017 when the Catalan regional government staged a referendum banned by Madrid and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Those behind the move were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the movement deeply disappointed and sharply at odds over how to proceed.

“Since 2017, morale has hit a real low, but the fact that there were political prisoners (in jail) gave them something to keep fighting for,” Berta Barbet, a political scientist from Barcelona’s Autonomous University, told AFP.

“Now that is gone (following the prisoners’ pardon), the real lack of driving force is clear for all to see.”

Also weighing on the mood is friction within Catalonia’s new separatist-led government, which groups the moderate leftist ERC that favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence, and its more radical junior partner, JxC, which wants to keep up a confrontational approach.

Such pressures have depleted the numbers at recent Diadas, with only 600,000 hitting the streets in 2019, the lowest number in many years.

In 2020, coronavirus-related health restrictions reduced the celebrations to a handful of separate events which drew fewer than 60,000 people.

The separatist camp also suffered a setback this week before the European Court of Human Rights, which dismissed complaints from two people who say they were the victims of police violence during the 2017 referendum.

Despite everything, independence is deeply rooted within this wealthy region of 7.8 million residents.

“Even though it is going through a difficult moment politically, the independence movement is still very strong on the street,” said Barbet.

And that was on show in regional elections in February when the separatists managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes.

Following weeks of tense negotiations, Pere Aragones, a moderate ERC separatist, was finally installed as regional leader in May.

A small player within Spain’s parliament, ERC has offered crucial support to the minority government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and when it took over as senior partner in the Catalan administration, it had an immediate effect.

Within weeks, the Spanish government had pardoned the separatist leaders and agreed to resume top-level talks on resolving the Catalan crisis.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS Suspends Guinea Over Military Coup

Sanchez and Aragones are scheduled to meet next week, although there is still no fixed date and it remains unclear whether the Spanish premier will attend the talks in person.

What is clear is that both sides will come to the table with radically different roadmaps.

The Spanish government is against the key demands of the separatists — namely, an amnesty for all those involved in the failed independence bid, which would exonerate those who fled abroad, and a referendum on self-determination, this time with Madrid’s approval.

“There is little or no room for agreement”, said Lluis Orriols, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

“The central government can offer greater regional powers, it can seek to hold a referendum with different parameters, but only as long as it doesn’t infringe on Spain’s constitution,” he said.

Still, there is hope that the negotiations will ease tensions at a key moment of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.


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German Lawmakers Quiz Merkel’s Likely Successor Over Corruption Charge



German Lawmakers Quiz Merkel's Likely Successor Over Corruption Charge

A top contender for Angela Merkel’s office as chancellor will on Monday face an investigation into an anti-money laundering agency overseen by his ministry.

The appearance of Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Merkel, before the German parliament’s finance committee comes less than a week before Germans go to the polls in national elections on September 26.

MPs from opposition parties will have the opportunity to ask Scholz questions via video link after the finance and justice ministries were raided by prosecutors on September 9 as part of a probe into the Cologne-based Financial Intelligence Unit.

The body, part of Germany’s customs authority tasked with tackling money laundering, is suspected of failing to report potential wrongdoing to the relevant authorities.

Merkel’s conservative bloc has seen a steady decline in opinion polls under unpopular candidate Armin Laschet, allowing Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party to grab a late polling lead.

“Nerves at the SPD are shredded” at the prospect that the scandal could have an impact on the party’s poll ratings, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

But prosecutors are also under scrutiny over the timing of their raids.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS Gives Guinea Military Deadline To Restore Democracy

The under-pressure conservatives have seized the opportunity to attack Scholz for his involvement in the controversy.

In a televised election debate last Sunday, Laschet said the result of the finance minister’s actions was that “supervision had failed” and accused Scholz of trying to brush the issue under the carpet.

In response, Scholz distanced himself from the unit, saying the raids “had nothing to do with the ministries”, and accused Laschet of asking “dishonest” questions.

Scholz has previously been criticised for the failure of his ministry to heed early warning signs from the payments company Wirecard, which collapsed last year after acknowledging a 1.9-billion-euro ($2.2-billion) hole in its accounts.

The finance minister appeared in front of a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard earlier this year, where he denied responsibility for the collapse of the company.

On the campaign trail, Scholz has defended his response to Wirecard, saying that he has led an effort to strengthen Germany’s financial watchdog in the aftermath.

“We did what we had to do,” Scholz said when confronted with accusations in a televised debate.
Scholz has also come under fire over Germany’s “cum-ex” tax fraud saga, a complicated share dividend scam that went on for years and is estimated to have cost the state some 5.5 billion euros.

The former mayor of Hamburg has denied putting pressure on the city’s tax authorities after meeting with the owner of a bank implicated in the scandal in 2016.


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ECOWAS Gives Guinea Military Deadline To Restore Democracy



ECOWAS Gives Guinea Military Deadline To Restore Democracy

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Guinean military to restore democracy in the country after its coup against the civilian government.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, stated this yesterday while representing President Muhammadu Buhari at the Extraordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS member-states on the political situation in the Republics of Guinea and Mali, which held in Accra, Ghana.

According to the communique issued at the end of the extraordinary summit, ECOWAS leaders have resolved to freeze the financial assets of members of the military junta, place a travel ban on them, while also demanding that the junta return Guinea to constitutional rule within six months.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS Suspends Guinea Over Military Coup

At the last summit of ECOWAS leaders which held virtually on September 8, Nigeria, also represented by VP Osinbajo, condemned the coup de‘tat in Guinea, calling for an unconditional release of President Alpha Conde, and for stringent measures on Guinea’s military junta.

At the Accra summit, Prof. Osinbajo restated Nigeria’s position, urging the unconditional release of President Condé and calling for more pressure to be put on the country’s military leaders to return the nation to democratic rule.

The vice president said : “It is also important that ECOWAS should simply insist that there should be an immediate return to civil rule.”
Calling for more stringent measures to be taken by the sub-regional body, Prof. Osinbajo said “we must make sure that sanctions by ECOWAS achieve the intended objectives.”

The vice president restated the call to engage global bodies and Africa’s development partners in taking steps to prevent such unconstitutional change of government in countries on the continent.

He said: “In this connection, I think we should engage all well-meaning stakeholders including the Africa Union, European Union, United Nations, developmental partners, and financial institutions to join in taking more stringent measures by imposing travel bans and freezing of offshore financial assets of the coupists and their collaborators to ensure that they do return the country to democracy immediately.”


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UN Asks Taliban Leaders Not To Intimidate Aid Workers



UN Asks Taliban Leaders Not To Intimidate Aid Workers

Deborah Lyons, the head of the United Nations envoy has met Afghanistan’s new interior minister who was for years one of the world’s most wanted Islamist militants.

On Thursday, Lyons, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan met Sirajuddin Haqqani to fashion ways for the country to head off soaring humanitarian crisis.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, disclosed this in a statement on Twitter.

“(Haqqani) stressed that UN personnel can conduct their work without any hurdle and deliver vital aid to the Afghan people,” he said.
Afghanistan was already facing chronic poverty and drought but the situation has deteriorated since the Taliban took over last month.

The plight of the Afghan people has been aggravated with the disruption of aid, with the departure of tens of thousands of people including government and aid workers chiefly instigating the collapse of much economic activity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international aid conference this week that Afghans were facing “perhaps their most perilous hour”.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said that in the Wednesday meeting Lyons had stressed the “absolute necessity for all UN and humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan to be able to work without intimidation or obstruction to deliver vital aid and conduct work for Afghan people”.

The Taliban repeatedly targeted the United Nations during the two-decades-long U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan that ended last month with the rout of the Western-backed government by the Taliban.

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In one of the bloodiest incidents, Taliban militants killed five members of UN foreign staff in an attack on a guest-house in Kabul in 2009.

More recently, gunmen attacked a UN compound in the city of Herat in July with rocket-propelled grenades killing a guard, while protesters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 2011 killed seven UN members of staff.

The Haqqani network, a faction within the Taliban and for years based on the border with Pakistan, was held responsible for some of the worst militant attacks in Afghanistan during the Taliban insurgency.

The United States designated the group a terrorist organisation in 2012.

Mr Haqqani, head of the eponymous network founded by his father, is one of the FBI’s most wanted men with a reward of $10 million for information leading to his arrest.

U.S. officials and members of the old U.S.-backed Afghan government for years said the Haqqani network maintained ties with al Qaeda.

The Taliban have promised not to let Afghanistan be used for militant attacks on other countries.



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