Rifts, recriminations among Catalonia's separatists

Barcelona (AFP) –


Catalonia's secessionist politicians have admitted that the region's independence declaration failed and recriminations have started to fly.

Five days after the Catalan parliament proclaimed a break away from Spain, the new republic's civil servants were working directly for the central government which imposed direct rule without finding any resistance, as had initially been feared.

Catalonia's deposed, separatist leader Carles Puigdemont had travelled to Brussels where he told independence supporters to prepare for "a long stretch" and said it would be better to "slow down" the independence process rather than risk unrest.

He also accepted the "challenge" of Catalan elections on December 21 as called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to "restore normality" after he imposed temporary direct rule on the semi-autonomous region in a bid to stop secession.

- 'Naivety' -

"The independence movement hasn't slowed down, it's stopped," retorted a Spanish government source in Barcelona, who refused to be named.

Santi Vila, who was Puigdemont's regional business minister until last week when he resigned after the Catalan leader decided against calling snap elections -- an option some felt could have eased the crisis -- accused his former colleagues Tuesday of naivety.

He said Catalonia hadn't been ready to function as an independent republic.

"Where's the control over the territory, the control of ports, airports, the management of transport?" he asked.

"We lacked the necessary political intelligence," he admitted on Catalonia's Rac1 radio, but denied having misled independence supporters.

"But it's true that I have government colleagues who displayed a level of naivety that is surprising at their age."

- Separatist parties to stand -

Vila put his name forward to lead his Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) -- also Puigdemont's party -- into the elections.

PDeCAT is part of the separatist coalition that ruled Catalonia until the regional government was axed by Madrid on Friday, along with leftist nationalist ERC, whose leader Oriol Junqueras was vice-president and the region's economic czar.

After having encouraged Puigdemont to take the final step towards a unilateral declaration of independence, ERC said it would take part in the regional election.

"We're champions of democracy, no democrat can compete with us," Junqueras told Catalonia's TV3 television Monday.

For its part, the small far-left CUP party, an ally of Puigdemont, asked for time Tuesday to "reflect on what happened, because we've seen the limits of institutional mechanisms."

The independence movement sought EU support after scenes of brutal police repression during an outlawed independence referendum on October 1 and the detention of two high-profile separatist civil leaders suspected of sedition -- in vain.

PDeCAT spokeswoman Marta Pascal summed up her impression of the current situation as "crikey, what happened here?", pointing to the fact there had been no international recognition or that Catalonia's regional police force were now following Madrid's orders.

Over the past years, as it built up its independence drive, the Catalan government had sought the help of advisors to craft a new republic and make it a reality.

One such advisory grouping was the National Transition Advisory Council, which put together a "white paper" on independence.

In that paper, it had specifically warned that the success of a unilateral proclamation would depend on whether the new republic could effectively be governed.

- 'No clear script' -

Sandra Leon, a political analyst who teaches at England's York University, said that far from focusing on a new republic, Catalan separatists were now looking ahead to the elections.

"Everyone is going to try and elaborate a tale of what happened in a way that will be most beneficial to them," she said.

"There was a declaration of independence in which many people had placed their expectations and all of a sudden, days after it happened, there is no clear script."

Former Catalan president Jose Montilla, a Socialist and rival of the nationalists, on Tuesday accused them of having lied.

They "have deceived people, they have messed with them, they sold them something they knew was a lie, wasn't possible," he told Catalan television.

"Why don't they face the consequences? Where are the representatives of the Catalan republic now?," he asked.