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Catalonia Parliament votes to split from Spain as Madrid votes to impose direct rule

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called new elections and fired the Catalan police chief, as par..

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called new elections and fired the Catalan police chief, as part of an unprecedented package of measures to seize control of the renegade administration in Barcelona.He said the moves were needed to restore legality, after a political and constitutional crisis that has gripped the country for months."In this moment, we need to be serene and careful, but we also need to have confidence that the state has the tools, backed by the law and reason, [to] peacefully and reasonably go back to legality and take away threats to democracy," he said. Rajoy spoke hours after the Catalan Parliament voted by 70 to 10 to "form the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state." The day's dramatic and fast-moving events pushed Spain into uncharted territory, testing the limits of the constitution drawn up after the restoration of democracy in the 1970s.

Dramatic scenes in Barcelona

The stage was set when separatists in the Catalan Parliament tabled a motion to declare independence from Spain, arguing that a disputed referendum on October 1 gave them a mandate to split from Madrid.After a heated debate, opposition parties walked outof the 135-seat chamber before the vote, some leaving Catalan and Spanish flags on their empty seats.Pro-independence crowds massed outside the Parliament cheered, jumped up and down, and waved flags, including the Catalan separatist "Estelada" flag, as the independence result was announced.Less than an hour later, the Spanish Senate granted the Madrid government powers under Article 155 of the Constitution to sack the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his ministers. Rajoy, who has pledged to quash the separatists, called a Cabinet meeting to agree on the measures he would take."Spain is a serious country, a great nation and we will not allow some people to blow up our Constitution," Rajoy told journalists in Madrid.Urging Spanish citizens to remain calm, he announced that Puigdemont and his ministers would be dismissed, and new elections in Catalonia would be held on December 21.Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to crush the Catalan independence bid.The office of Spain's prosecutor general meanwhile confirmed it would file a lawsuit for rebellion against Puigdemont, the Catalan government and the members of the parliament board who voted in favor of independence.It was unclear on Friday how the Spanish government would enforce the measures announced by Rajoy. A tough crackdown could risk a repeat of the violent scenes that played out in Catalonia on October 1, the day of the referendum.But it seemed unlikely that members of the Catalan government who have fought so hard for independence for years would simply acquiesce to Spanish government forces. Another question was how the local Catalan police force would react if national forces were deployed to the streets of Barcelona.

Puigdemont: 'Stay strong'

Speaking in the Catalan Parliament building after the landmark vote, Puigdemont said legitimately elected lawmakers had cast their ballots according to a mandate earned in the October 1 referendum.But he acknowledged that the path ahead would not be easy. "We are facing a period in which we will need to stay strong and in peace, dignified and civil as we have always been, and I'm sure we will keep being so," he said.Catalan President Carles Puigdemont casts his vote for independence from Spain on Friday.  "The institutions and the people together built nations, societies, and a nation cannot be built without one of these elements."Supporters followed his words with applause and repeated chants of "freedom, freedom."

International reaction

The European Union has backed Madrid in its handling of the crisis, which Rajoy has insisted is an internal matter.Following the Catalan Parliament's vote, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force."Puigdemont responded via Twitter: "Catalans always favour the force of arguments."The UK and Germany, through government spokesmen, said they would not recognize Catalonia's independence declaration. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his nation does not recognize the declaration of independence."France wishes Spain to be strong and united. It only maintains one partner, which is the Madrid government. The constitution of Spain must be respected," Le Drian said in a statement. The United States also voiced its support for the Madrid government."Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

How did we get here?

Several times during its history, Catalonia has found itself caught between the rivalries of France and Spain.The region industrialized before the rest of Spain and had strong anarchist, socialist and communist movements that all fought against Gen. Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.The current dispute goes back to that conflict. Franco repressed Catalonia's earlier limited autonomy, and in the early years of the dictatorship at least, expressions of Catalan language and culture. Four years after Franco's 1975 death, the region regained some of that autonomy.In 2006, Madrid backed Catalonia's calls for even greater powers, granting it "nation" status and financial control. But four years later, the Constitutional Court rescinded that status, ruling that while Catalan is a "nationality," Catalonia itself is not a nation.One of Spain's 17 autonomous provinces, Catalonia has had its own regional government with considerable powers over health care, education and tax collection. But it pays taxes to Madrid, and pro-independence politicians argue that complex mechanisms for redistributing tax revenue are unfair to wealthier areas, something that has helped stoke resentment.

CNN's Claudia Rebaza reported from Barcelona and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Steve Almasy, Erin McLaughlin, Vasco Cotovio, Sarah Chiplin and Milena Veselinovic contributed to this report, as did journalist Elena Gyldenkerne.

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Europe

Ukraine crisis: Why Russia-US talks may prove crucial

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Senior diplomats from the US and Russia are meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva for the first of a series of crunch talks aimed at defusing tension over Ukraine.

The stakes for these talks on Monday are high. But both sides hold wildly different expectations. The US and other Western powers want to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

But Russia wants to talk about its maximalist demands for Nato to retreat from eastern Europe. It’s calling for Nato to pull its forces out of former Soviet countries, end any eastern expansion and rule out Ukraine joining the alliance.

Some US officials fear these demands are deliberately unrealistic, designed to be rejected and used as a pretext for military action. Other diplomats believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is aiming high to squeeze concessions out of a Western alliance that is willing to give ground to avoid war.

They say the Russian president is effectively demanding an end to Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture and the establishment of a Russian “sphere of influence”.

A high price

Given this, the US and Nato have dismissed most of Russia’s demands as “non-starters”. And the US has categorically denied reports it is considering possible troop reductions.

But American officials have said they are willing to look at curbs on military exercises and missile deployments.

One idea is a partial revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that the US abandoned in 2019 after Russia was accused of breaching its provisions. Other ideas are more measures to build confidence and greater transparency between Russia and the US.

The fear among some European allies is that even this would be too much of a reward for Russia, too high a price for trying to avoid conflict in Ukraine.

They fear the US might be willing to concede too much so it can focus more on China and domestic challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy.

The US is aware of these fears and repeatedly insists it will not agree anything about Ukraine or European security without those countries involved.

Either way, President Putin has already made some gains, winning a platform this week to air his grievances and force the US and Europe to engage with his agenda of Nato reform.

Both sides are playing down expectations of an immediate deal. But that does not mean this week’s talks are not important.

A crucial staging post

At best, the talks could shed more light on Mr Putin’s intentions and reveal if he is serious about engaging in diplomacy.

At worst, a breakdown could lead to war, allowing Mr Putin to claim to his domestic audience that the West was not willing to talk and agree to his demands, and he was thus forced to act to ensure Russia’s security.

Western diplomats say they are ready for what they see as this false narrative: hence the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisting the alliance is ready for any Russian military action, and the firm warnings from the US and Europe that any invasion would be met with massive economic sanctions.

So, this week’s talks could prove a crucial diplomatic staging post, with the fate of Ukraine and Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture in the balance.

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Europe

Russia fines Google over illegal content breach

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bbc– A Moscow court has fined Google 7.2bn roubles ($98m; £73m) for repeated failure to delete content deemed illegal in Russia.

Details of the offending content were not specified in the announcement by the court’s press service.

This is the first time in Russia that a technology giant has been hit with a fine based on their annual turnover.

Google told AFP news agency that it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

Russian authorities have increased pressure on tech firms this year, accusing them of not moderating their content properly, and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Hours after the Google verdict was announced, a 2bn rouble fine was handed to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for similar content-related offences.

Earlier this week, Twitter was also handed a 3m rouble fine for similar charges.

This is not Google’s first brush with Russian authorities over content laws. In May, Russia’s media watchdog threatened to slow down the speed of Google if it failed to delete 26,000 instances of unlawful content, which it said related to drugs, violence and extremism.

President Vladimir Putin has pushed for development of a so-called sovereign internet, which would give the government more control over what its citizens can access.

Critics have accused Russia of using the campaign to clamp down on free speech and online dissent.

The country’s media regulator has blocked dozens of websites linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose campaign groups have been labelled “extremist”.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign, which gave users advice on tactical voting to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Websites like LinkedIn and Dailymotion have already been blocked for refusing to co-operate with authorities, and six major providers of Virtual Personal Networks (VPNs) – which help users to conceal their online activities – have been banned.

Earlier this year, Russia also introduced a new law requiring all new smartphones, computers and smart devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with Russian-made software and apps.

The government said the move would help Russian tech firms compete with foreign rivals.

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Europe

Japanese billionaire returns to Earth from space trip

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dw- Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa returned to Earth on Monday after spending 12 days on board the International Space Station, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said.

Maezawa is a fashion tycoon who sold his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank in 2019. Forbes estimates his worth as $1.9 (€1.69) billion.

What was the trip like?

Maezawa parachuted onto Kazakhstan’s steppe at around the planned time of 0313 GMT, along with his assistant and film producer Yozo Hirano, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

The landing site was located 150 kilometers southeast of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan, where there was precipitation and sub-zero temperatures.

Maezawa made the trip in a Russian ‘Soyuz’ spacecraft and became the first space tourist to travel to the International Space Station in more than a decade.

The entrepreneur made a variety of posts on social media from his trip, including photos from space of his home prefecture of Chiba, and videos showing how to make tea in zero gravity and discussing his shortage of fresh underwear.

What did Maezawa say about the trip?

In a live interview from the orbiting space station, Maezawa said that “once you are in space, you realize how much it is worth it by having this amazing experience.”

When asked about claims that he had paid more than $80 million (€71 million) for the trip, Maezawa said he couldn’t disclose the exact sum but admitted that he paid “pretty much” that much.

Maezawa is currently searching for eight people to join him on a trip to the moon in 2023. Applicants are required to pass medical tests and an interview.

 

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