President Torra hints at new referendum in parliament
Proposal caught pro-independence partners off guard as opposition parties call for Torra's resignation
President Quim Torra said on Thursday in parliament that a new referendum should be the response to this week's jailing of nine Catalan leaders for up to 13 years for organizing a unilateral vote on independence in 2017 that was banned by the Spanish authorities.
At an extraordinary session of the chamber, Torra said that "if they sentence us to 100 years for providing ballot boxes, the response is clear: another self-determination vote," referring to the nine leaders whose joint sentences amount to just over 99 years.
Torra went on to express his "consternation and indignation" at the Supreme Court's verdict, and added that there was no need to be a supporter of Catalonia's independence to consider the sentences an "intolerable disgrace."
Yet, when it was his turn to address the chamber, Sergi Sabrià, the spokesman for the ERC party that is part of the pro-independence coalition government, expressed some surprise at hearing Torra's proposal, saying "we've just learnt about it."
Sabrià backed the proposal but warned it is impossible to put a date on such a vote and that it would require "recovering consensus." "It won't be quick, but we will make the state sit at the negotiation table and we will vote in a self-determination referendum," he said.
Vice president demands meeting with Torra
Nor was Sabrià the only one caught off guard by Torra's proposal, as later in the day vice president, Pere Aragonès, also from the ERC party, demanded an urgent meeting with the president to discuss the surprise announcement in parliament.
Also attended by presidency minister, Meritxell Budó, Aragonès expressed the discomfort the proposal had caused, especially as it had not been agreed beforehand and it was not known who in the government would support it, said sources close to the meeting.
In fact, that was the second meeting Aragonès had held that day following Torra's appearance in parliament, as the vice president first spoke to speaker, Roger Torrent, also from ERC, about the implications of the surprise proposal, sources confirmed.
Torra comes under fire
The general reaction in the chamber from other parties to Torra's address was a series of calls for the president to step down from his post, over his government's handling of the crisis since the verdict was announced and the protests that have followed.
Lorena Roldán, the head of the main opposition party, the unionist Ciutadans, called Torra "irresponsible" and "unworthy of being president." She also accused Torra of "setting Barcelona on fire," in reference to the clashes in the Catalan capital.
Meanwhile, the leader of the also unionist Catalan Socialists, Miquel Iceta, said Torra "can no longer be president," accusing him of putting "independence before peaceful coexistence," and adding that " your activism leads you to undermine citizens' security."
The head of the unionist PP party, Alejandro Fernandez, hinted at Torra's involvement in organizing protests, and spoke of "savage attacks on Catalans." He also called on young Catalans not to let themselves be manipulated by Torra and "irresponsible politicians."
As for the head of the leftwing CatECP party, Jèssica Albiach, she said: "You can't send people to occupy the airport and then order charges against them," going on to remind Torra that "you're not an activist, you're the president. If you don't know that, step down."
Reaction from pro-independence parties
Far-left CUP party MP, Carles Riera, focused on the protests of the past few days, arguing that they "served to show the authoritarianism of the Spanish state" and the "absolute failure" of the government, and he called on people to "persist with the protests."
The sentencing of the leaders unleashed protests that, in some cases, have seen protestors clashing with police. Torra's address included a message of support for the Catalan police, although he added they must be "scrupulous" in investigating "any irregular situations."
Albert Batet, the spokesman for the other party in government, JxCat, made a call for urgent dialogue with Spain, insisting "justice cannot wait, democracy cannot wait, let us sit at the negotiation table," while describing the verdict as "unjust and inhumane."