Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has made his first public appearance in Belgium since appearing in court on an arrest warrant. Earlier he attacked the passivity of EU leaders on the topic of Catalonia's secession.
Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, center, applauds with Catalan mayors who travelled to Brussels to take part in an event
On Tuesday, about 200 mayors from Catalonia gathered in a Brussels art museum to show their support for Carles Puigdemont.
They raised walking sticks — the symbol of mayoral power in Spain — in the air and chanted "President, president, president" as they waited for Puigdemont to come through the door.
Anti-independence and pro-independence demonstrators held a protest in Brussels as Catalan mayors gathered
In an interview in Brussels with Catalan public radio earlier on Tuesday, Puigdemont said he planned to lead a pro-independence coalition of political forces in December's regional election.
There is an "absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites," he said.
Puigdemont also called on Spain's government to suspend Article 155, which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared in late October to lead Catalonia from Madrid.
"The Spanish state is committing a brutal repression ... If we don't battle repression together, the Spanish state may win this fight," Puigdemont said.
"Catalonia's problem is an issue of human rights that requires maximum attention," he said.
Puigdemont is fighting extradition to Spain, where other members of the ousted Cabinet are in jail awaiting the results of an investigation into whether they implemented a strategy to secede from Spain.
'Partner in Spain'
European Council President Donald Tusk made clear that Madrid "remains our only interlocutor." Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, warned of the danger of "more cracks" opening up in the 28-member bloc following Catalonia's vote.
Calling for dialogue, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, made clear that Germany does not recognize "such an independence declaration."
"I have one partner in Spain," French President Emmanuel Macron said. "That's Prime Minister Rajoy."
Britain "does not and will not" recognize the unilateral declaration of independence made by Catalonia's regional parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson said in a statement.
Calling Catalonia "an integral part of Spain," the US State Department reaffirmed its support to "keep Spain strong and united."
The December poll
Spain's central authorities are now in direct control of Catalonia, where an early election on December 21 appears to be a race between separatist and pro-union forces.
The parties have until midnight Tuesday to register an interest in forming coalitions.
On Tuesday, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which headed the secession movement, called for the region's separatist political parties to run on a "unified pro-independence ticket."
In a statement, the ANC recommended that the coalition include jailed separatist activists and members of the deposed cabinet as candidates.
A repeat of the ousted ruling coalition of the center-right PDeCAT and the left-republican ERC seems unlikely before the deadline expires.
PDeCAT wants Puigdemont to lead a hypothetical coalition; ERC would agree if deposed and jailed Vice President Oriol Junqueras were to head a ticket supported by the Popular Unity Candidacy and even far-left nonnationalists.
A recent poll by the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper predicted that the three pro-secession parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in December. Sixty-eight seats are needed for a majority.
Pro-secession parties held 72 of the 132 seats in Catalonia's parliament before it was dissolved on October 28.
Catalan independence is now the No. 2 cause of concern for Spaniards, behind unemployment and ahead of corruption, according to the latest government-run poll.
Before the banned October 1 independence referendum deepened the political standoff, the issue was only ninth in the ranking of concerns by the CIS survey. Unemployment, the second highest level in Europe, was still the key concern for 66.2 percent of Spaniards.
jbh/rc (AP, Reuters)