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Pride in being Spanish reborn in Catalonia

Tuesday, 19 December 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Spain — Francisco Alfonso had never voted or taken part in a demonstration before, but that all changed when Catalonia’s leaders tried to break the wealthy northeastern region away from Spain.
“Before, you kept quiet, you didn’t say anything,” said the 37-year-old plumber, a pro-unity supporter from the working class town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet near Barcelona.
But after Catalonia’s separatist government went ahead with a banned independence referendum on October 1, and the region’s parliament declared independence three weeks later, “you realize you have to hit the streets,” he said.
“If we didn’t, this would be a jungle. They are separating us from Spain, companies are leaving, the economy is going downhill,” he added, in a reference to the over 3,000 firms that have moved their legal headquarters away since the vote.
For years, separatists monopolized attention — red and yellow striped independence flags draped balconies and flew above dozens of town halls, while Spanish flags were scarce. Meanwhile, grassroots independence groups staged massive rallies.
But the regional government’s separatist drive has led many Catalan opponents of independence, like Alfonso, to become more vocal about their pride in being Spanish.
Those feelings have intensified as Catalonia prepares to vote on Thursday in a regional election that could chart the course of Spain’s secession crisis.
After the referendum, pro-unity supporters began to hang Spanish flags across Catalonia and staged their own mass demonstrations, including one in Barcelona on October 8 that drew hundreds of thousands of people.
“Never in my life had I owned a Spanish flag,” said Alfonso’s friend Mara Jose Gonzalez, a 63-year-old housewife who bought one for a rally.
“The first day I used it I was afraid, but the second time I felt a sort of liberation,” she added before heading to a campaign rally for pro-unity party Ciudadanos with her husband and Alfonso.
‘Vote clearly’
Set up in 2006 to fight Catalan nationalism, Ciudadanos has grown from a minor party into a front-runner which tops opinion polls ahead of Thursday’s election.
At campaign rallies supporters bear signs featuring a heart made up of the flags of Spain, Catalonia and the European Union.
Turnout is expected to be high for the knife-edge election — especially in traditionally anti-separatist areas where people do not usually participate in regional politics.
“Voting for Ciudadanos is voting clearly. It is voting for union unreservedly,” the leader of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, Ines Arrimadas, told reporters recently.
Originally from Jerez de la Frontera in the southwestern region of Andalusia, Arrimadas speaks perfect Catalan and is married to a former nationalist Catalan lawmaker, making her a perfect symbol of the diversity that makes up the region’s society in the eyes of many voters.
“She is the one who represents me best,” said Ana Maria Gonzalez, 73, after taking a picture with Arrimidas in Figueras, the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali in northern Catalonia.
‘So much scorn hurts’
Gonzalez was born in Seville, the capital of Andalusia, but moved to Figueras when she was 20, part of a vast influx of migrants from poorer regions of Spain to Catalonia.
“They have always treated us well, I got along well with everyone but these last few months we have had a hard time,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Supporters of Catalan independence “attack you because you don’t speak Catalan or for wearing this,” she added, pointing to a lapel pin on her jacket with the Ciudadanos logo.
“I am just as Catalan as them. I have worked my entire life here. We also helped build all of this. Up until now we did not say anything but we are tired of being attacked and insulted.”
A former president of the Catalan regional parliament said Arrimadas should return to Andalusia while a top Catalan author described migrants who have moved to Catalonia as “colonizers” in an opinion article.
“So much scorn hurts,” said Gonzalez.
Ricardo Brau, a 17-year-old student, listened as he is called facha, or fascist, in the center of Barcelona because he was carrying a Spanish flag.
“My family is Catalan, I am Catalan, but I also feel Spanish and I am proud to be so. I am tired of hiding it. But here, if you are not separatist, it seems like you are no longer Catalan,” he said.
Before he finished talking, a man wearing a safety pin calling for the release of Catalan leaders jailed for rebellion and other crimes over their separatist drive bumped into him.
“See? This is what riles me up. And then we are the ones who are not democratic,” he said. 


Trump says he won’t fire Russia meddling probe chief

Tuesday, 19 December 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump yesterday insisted he has no plans to fire special counsel Mueller, despite his team’s recent attacks on the credibility of the probe into Russian meddling in the US election.
With the ex-FBI director’s investigation making inroads into the president’s inner circle in recent weeks, Republicans have sought to cast doubt on its impartiality and pressed for a new independent prosecutor to investigate anti-Trump bias.
This in turn has led to speculation that the administration could be laying the groundwork for firing Mueller.
But Trump shot down those rumors. Asked whether he was going to fire Mueller, the president told reporters: “No, I’m not.”
In a letter to congressional committees, Trump campaign lawyer Kory Langhofer alleged the General Services Administration (GSA) “unlawfully produced” private materials, including privileged communications that Mueller then used as part of his Russia probe.
The GSA is the government agency that supports presidential transitions — the interim period after a new president is elected but before he takes office.

Langhofer wrote that Mueller’s office “received from the GSA tens of thousands of emails, including a very significant volume of privileged material,” according to a copy of the letter published by Politico.
The letter added that a warrant should have been obtained for such materials, and said it violated the Presidential Transition Act.
Trump said “my people are very upset about it,” calling the development “quite sad.”
“I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because as we said, there’s no collusion. There’s no collusion whatsoever.”
But Mueller’s spokesman Peter Carr told CNN that emails were obtained for the probe after “we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”
Probe tightens
Mueller was appointed after Trump abruptly fired then-FBI director James Comey, who was leading an agency probe into the Russia affair.
The president’s Democratic foes have sought to characterize the allegations of illegality as an attempt to stymie the probe, which has already led to charges against Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn and three other people linked to the presidential campaign.
“ABSOLUTE RED LINE: the firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the special counsel’s office,” tweeted Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
“If removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass, popular, peaceful support of both. The American people must be seen and heard - they will ultimately be determinative.”
Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell said: “This is another attempt to discredit Mueller as his #TrumpRussia probe tightens.”
Republicans asked the US Justice Department on Wednesday to name a new independent prosecutor to probe alleged bias in the FBI.
The special counsel’s critics have seized upon the case of Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent whom Mueller removed from his team for sending text messages critical of Trump.
In addition to whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russia to help him win last year’s election, the special counsel is also looking at possible obstruction of justice linked to Trump’s firing of Comey.
Trump did so in May and later acknowledged he had the Russia probe in mind when he sacked him.
Comey, for his part, wrote a memo alleging Trump had asked him to drop his investigation into Flynn, an act which some say could constitute obstruction of justice and thus grounds for seeking Trump’s impeachment.
But the Justice Department’s number two, Rod Rosenstein, insisted this week that the investigation was impartial and free from any political influence.
Trump has repeatedly denied claims of “collusion” with Russia, and denounced the “witch hunt” against him. 

James sparks Cavaliers’ win over Wizards

Tuesday, 19 December 2017 00:00 Published in Sports


LeBron James posted his fourth triple-double in five games with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists as the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Washington Wizards 106-99 on Sunday.
Kevin Love scored a team-high 25 points, while Jeff Green had 15 points for the Cavaliers who have won 18 of 19, including their past five National Basketball Association games.
The Eastern Conference giants engaged in a hard-fought battle as the teams were tied at the end of the second and third quarters.
James's three-pointer early in the fourth quarter put the Cavaliers in front for good and sparked an 8-0 run.
"The game is just very, very slow to me right now," James said.
"I'm playing the game at a snail's pace and I'm able to see everything and see things happen before they happen. Put the ball on time, on target.
"To have teammates that complement my passing is the ultimate dream for a guy like myself."
Green's three-point play capped the surge as Cleveland led 95-89 with 6:55 remaining.
Bradley Beal scored 27 points for the Wizards, who had won two in a row.
John Wall had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Washington made 12 three-pointers but finished nine of 16 on free throws.
Elsewhere, the resurgent Detroit Pistons equalled a franchise record with 17 three-pointers en route to 114-110 win over the shorthanded Orlando Magic.
Forward Reggie Bullock scored a career-high 20 points for the Pistons who made 50 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc and won their third consecutive game after losing seven straight.
Playing the Magic seems to bring out the best in 26-year-old American Bullock. His previous high also came against Orlando, when he scored 17 points last season.
Bullock made eight of 10 shots from the floor Sunday continuing to take advantage of his expanded role under coach Stan Van Gundy.
He was added to the starting lineup four games ago and his scoring boost has coincided with the Pistons' latest win streak.
Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson and Anthony Tolliver scored 17 points apiece for the Pistons.
Andre Drummond contributed 12 points for Detroit, which led by 24 in the fourth quarter but gave up 19 unanswered points before holding on for the win.
Detroit starting shooting guard Avery Bradley missed his second consecutive game due to a right adductor strain.
Forward Mario Hezonja scored a career-high 28 points for Orlando, which has dropped five straight.
Nikola Vucevic supplied 24 points and 14 rebounds, and Jonathon Simmons had 23 points.
Both of Orlando's leading scorers missed the game. Forward Aaron Gordon was sidelined because of a calf strain, while guard Evan Fournier sat out for the fifth consecutive game with a right ankle sprain.
In Toronto, DeMar DeRozan led a balanced attack with 21 points as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Sacramento Kings 108-93. The Raptors also beat the Kings last Sunday in Sacramento.


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