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General Strike in Catalonia

Catalonia: State of Uncertainty

Catalonia declares independence from Spain
Catalonia declares independence from Spain – crowds near the Parc de Cuitadella Barcelona, on October 27, after the Catalan Parliament ratifies the Yes outcome of the independence referendum held on October 1st.

Note: This article first appeared on The Irish Times website on November 8, 2017. This version has links added, and some updates too. 

Having escaped police violence during Catalonia’s independence referendum on October 1st, trouble arrived this week in the town of Sant Cugat, where I live, just north of Barcelona.

On Monday night, an angry group of 300 people, waving Spanish flags, used knives to rip down a large banner that hung from the town hall. The banner read “Llibertat Presos Politics” – “Freedom for Political Prisoners” – in support of the Catalan government ministers and activists currently jailed in Madrid, following the recent declaration of the Catalan Republic.

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Catalonia declares independence from Spain

Irishman in Barcelona: ‘We’d be happy to live in a Republic of Catalonia’

Opinion: I want no part in a regime that hospitalises peaceful people who just want to vote

We spent from 5.30am on Sunday morning at the local library, or biblioteca, less than 100m from my home in Sant Cugat del Vallès, a town of 87,000 just over the hill from Barcelona. My partner and her father are from the French part of Catalonia, or Catalunya Nord, as it’s known. None of us could vote in the independence referendum, but after the authoritarian behaviour of the Spanish authorities in recent weeks, we wanted to help protect the voting centres.

As the sky slowly brightened outside, people chatted, read books, tried to sleep. Others had tea or coffee, or ate from the massive buffet of snacks that had appeared on a table. The Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, had visited the voting centres to check what was going on, then left. Everyone was prepared to block any seizure of voting materials, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the violence that the day would bring.

By 9am, the ballot box had appeared and the voting centre had been set up. We were all outside by now, protecting the door, looking in the window and applauding as the first vote was cast.

Read More »Irishman in Barcelona: ‘We’d be happy to live in a Republic of Catalonia’

We Just Want to Vote - Franco ReturnsDuring a pre referendum social event in Placa Octavia, Sant Cugat del Valles, with dancing and other traditional activities, including castellets, the human towers, pro independence activists question the actions of th

Catalonia: We Just Want To Vote

“We just want to vote”

This is the message, in English, that many Catalans have been sending out to the rest of Europe, in the run up to this Sunday’s planned independence referendum.

Most Catalans, or more correctly, most people, who can vote here want to have a say, in what the Catalan Generalitat (regional government) has said will be a binding vote. Depending on which polls you read, less than half of voters want independence. While these stats are widely reported, I did read a poll today that suggested there would be 63% or more turnout and an 83% yes vote.

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Massive queues crossing Spain-France Border

Crossing Europe’s Frontiers #2: Pointless Pyrenean Traffic Jams

New Year’s Day 2016: Our car is one of thousands stalled on the AP-7 autopista, waiting to cross the Pyrenees into France. The fire has gone out of the bellies of most drivers, who’ve quit their frenzied switching of lanes and are now going through the robotic motions. First gear, handbrake off, roll forward, brake, neutral, handbrake on. Repeat.

Everyone has realised there’s no easy way out of this, so they’re giving up the wheel to their passengers, having slow-moving picnics, or in the case of two cars in the lane next to us, have broken out hookas to smoke some shisha. A recovery truck goes by in the hard shoulder, carrying a VW Passat that has given up.

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Belgium France Border

Blather: Opening a Can of Worms on Europe’s Frontiers

Belgium France Border

Telling stories is an important part of what I do, yet it’s easy to leave it aside to “work on it later”. Last week I had the chance to come up with to formulate a story during a long journey, and committed it to text later that night. It came to me while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the Belgium-France border, ostensibly because of increased frontier checks. As every delayed driver that day discovered, the only thing the “border check” successfully accomplished was creating the traffic jam.

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The Forest at Otsamo, Lapland

Finnish Forest Rescued!

Real change rarely comes quickly as we would like – it’s one of the tough lessons of environmental campaigning. But when it eventually does arrive, it can be very, very sweet, like the satisfaction of saving an immense forest in the far north of Europe.

In February 2005, I was in the back of a car in Lapland, Finland, watching an apparently lifeless, monochrome expanse of skinny dark trees and dazzling white snow blur by. “What”, I wondered, “are we doing here, trying to save these young, tiny little trees?” I was part of an international team of Greenpeace activists from all over Europe and beyond who had arrived in Lapland to set up the Forest Rescue Station, a kind of base camp that would put us in a position to help the local Saami reindeer herders protect the forest. If the Finnish government was to have its way, many of these trees were destined to end up as paper pulp for books and magazines across Europe.

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