People shout holding Spanish and Catalan flags in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS
People shout holding Spanish and Catalan flags in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS

Edinburgh/Ottawa — The standoff between Madrid and supporters of independence in Spain’s Catalan region has stirred separatist feelings far beyond the Spanish borders.

Politicians across the globe criticised armed Spanish police who used truncheons and rubber bullets on voters, injuring hundreds in a crackdown on Sunday’s secession vote, considered illegal under Spain’s 1978 constitution.

Several politicians from regions with their own separatist movements said it was time for politics to resolve the crisis in the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy.

Catalan leaders said the result showed its people wanted to leave Spain and it would push ahead with secession. Madrid has ruled out talks until, it said, Catalonia acts within the law.

"The solution is political. It won’t be through repression, it won’t be through brutality, and what needs to happen is a political discussion. I think that’s reality," Quebec’s premier Philippe Couillard said.

He drew parallels for a potential solution to his own province, which has held two referendums on whether to separate from Canada, and the last of which was narrowly defeated in 1995.

Other politicians called on the EU, facing a huge challenge to its unity in Britain’s impending exit from the bloc, to intervene in a deepening crisis that has shaken the euro and Spanish stocks and bonds.

They said it was a matter of human rights.

Joanna Cherry, a legislator from the Scottish National Party (SNP), called on the EU to "up its game". Her party lost a legally binding referendum on Scottish independence from the UK in 2014. The SNP-led Scottish government is urging talks to let Catalans decide their own future. "Spain will maintain that this vote is not legitimate, but the strength of feeling demonstrated cannot be ignored," it said.

Matt Carthy, European legislator for Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein whose aim is to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, called the EU "a shower of utter hypocrites".

"The EU has ignored a vicious assault on EU citizens in Catalonia because they had the audacity to vote," he told fellow European legislators in an emotionally charged speech. "We are told the EU stands for peace, democracy and human rights. Where were those values on Sunday?"

Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested that a minority of about 40% of Catalans backed independence, but a majority wanted a referendum to be held. Catalan officials released preliminary referendum results showing 90% are in favour of breaking away, but turnout was 43% and low among those who favour remaining part of Spain.

Spain’s constitution determines that the majority which counts is Spain as a whole, not Catalonia’s 5.3-million voters.

Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said his government respects Spain’s constitution, but he also described the violence as "disproportionate and counterproductive".

Turkey, which condemned last week’s referendum for Kurdish independence in northern Iraq, also spoke of the importance of respecting Spanish law and territorial integrity.

"We believe that Spain … will overcome such challenges and establish a national dialogue environment through a democratic approach," Turkey’s foreign ministry said.

In Serbia, officials accused the EU of double standards by refusing to recognise Catalonia’s referendum and at the same time supporting the independence of Serbia’s former province Kosovo.

Another would-be breakaway group, the Movement for the Autonomy of Slask, which wants autonomy for Poland’s Slask region, said that events in Spain were proof of the temptation to use repression to control political dissent.

"The European community should work out rules and procedures for solving similar conflicts," it said.


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