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POLITICS

Catalan leader unveils new government after coalition crisis

After the Catalan regional coalition was thrown into crisis in recent weeks, a new minority government has emerged after bitter infighting between separatist groups.

Catalan leader unveils new government after coalition crisis
Catalan regional president Pere Aragones. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP

Seven new faces entered Catalonia’s regional administration on Tuesday, now a minority government following a crisis that saw the hardline JxCat withdraw from the separatist coalition.

“We are turning a new page and will continue working with total determination,” said regional leader Pere Aragones of the left-wing ERC party following his government’s first meeting without JxCat.

JxCat decided to quit the coalition after 55 percent of party activists voted to leave against 42 percent who wanted to stay.

Although JxCat’s departure left ERC running a minority government with just 33 of the Catalan parliament’s 135 seats, Aragones ruled out early elections, quickly moving to restructure his cabinet.

READ ALSO: Why Catalan separatists are in crisis five years after independence vote

Four of the new ministers are from ERC and three from other allied separatist parties.

In order to pass key measures such as the regional budget, Aragones could seek support from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, whose minority left-wing coalition is backed by ERC within the Spanish parliament.

Although both ERC and JxCat want independence for Catalonia, they have been sharply at odds over how to achieve it.

JxCat is headed by former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont who played a key role in staging the October 2017 referendum banned by Madrid and the failed independence bid that followed, sparking Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Puigdemont fled abroad to escape prosecution while others who stayed in Spain were arrested and tried. Nine were handed heavy jail terms by the Spanish courts but later pardoned.

The failed independence bid triggered a bitter rift between the two separatist parties that has never healed.

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POLITICS

Gibraltar accuses Spain of ‘gross sovereignty breach’ over customs incident

Gibraltar on Friday accused Spain of a "gross violation of British sovereignty" after an incident on one of its beaches involving Spanish customs agents who were attacked by smugglers, during which shots were fired.

Gibraltar accuses Spain of 'gross sovereignty breach' over customs incident

“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” said Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in a statement.

The incident happened early on Thursday when a small Spanish customs vessel lost power while pursuing suspected tobacco smugglers off Gibraltar, a source from Spain’s tax agency which is in charge of customs told AFP.

After choppy seas pushed their vessel to the shore, the two officers on board were surrounded by a group of people and pelted with rocks, some of them weighing over three kilos (6.5 pounds), the source added.

The officers fired “shots into the water to try to drive away” the people throwing rocks, a tax office source told AFP, speaking on condition he was not identified.

One customs officer suffered a broken nose, the other fractured bones in his face, he added.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show several shots being fired during the incident, although it was not clear who fired them.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

“Should it be confirmed that Spanish officials discharged their weapons in Gibraltar, such action would be a very serious breach of the law,” the Gibraltar government statement said.

It called the incident “reckless and dangerous, especially in an area of dense civilian population, given the proximity of a residential estate in the area”.

The governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom consider that the events “will require careful consideration as to the nature and level of diplomatic response,” it added.

Gibraltar police and army officers used metal detectors on Friday to search for bullet casings on the beach, images broadcast on Gibraltar TV showed.

Picardo said Spanish law agencies know they can ask Gibraltar law enforcement to continue a chase into Gibraltar but “it would appear that they did not do so in this case.”

Spain’s foreign ministry “categorically rejected” the terms of the Gibraltar government statement as well as the “claims of alleged British sovereignty over the territory and waters of Gibraltar” which it contained.

Spain’s Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the customs agency would “investigate what happened and will demand the necessary explanations”.

Post-Brexit talks

The incident comes as Madrid and London are locked in talks over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

The European Commission and Spain sent Britain, in late 2022 a proposal that would keep freedom of movement along the border of the tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

About 15,000 people, the majority of them Spaniards, commute daily from Spain to jobs in Gibraltar, which has a population of about 34,000.

Gibraltar has long been a source of British-Spanish tensions. Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back, a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the
frontier.

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.

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