French Territory Rejects Independence

People cast their ballots to vote in the referendum on New Caledonia’s independence from France in the Montravel quarter in Noumea, on the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, on November 4, 2018. Theo Rouby / AFP

 

The Pacific islands of New Caledonia voted Sunday to remain part of France in an independence referendum that showed support for Paris in one of its many far-flung but strategic outposts.

Some 18,000 kilometres (11,000 miles) from the French mainland, New Caledonia is home to a quarter of the world’s known supplies of nickel — a vital electronics component — and is a foothold for France in the Pacific where China is increasing its influence.

On the final count, 56.4 per cent of people had rejected the proposition that New Caledonia becomes independent, a clear but smaller-than-expected victory for loyalists to the mainland.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “immense pride that we have taken this historic step together” in a televised address to the nation, adding it was “a sign of confidence in the French Republic, in its future and its values.”

Despite being an archipelago of islands, New Caledonia is sometimes referred to in France as “the pebble” and is home to about 175,000 people.

Turnout was high for the vote, at more than 80 per cent.

But there are fears the referendum could inflame tensions between indigenous Kanak people, who tend to favour independence, and the white population which has settled since France annexed the islands in 1853.

Several cars were burned and a couple of incidents of stone-throwing were reported late Sunday, local authorities said, but the vote was otherwise peaceful.

Tensions in New Caledonia boiled over into ethnic strife in the 1980s which claimed more than 70 lives.

It led to the 1998 Noumea Accord which paved the way for a steady devolution of powers, as well as Sunday’s referendum and possibly two others before 2022.

“The Kanaks have become aware that they need to show their determination to be free at last,” Alosio Sako, head of the pro-independence movement FLNKS, said after the results were announced.

Polls had forecast a bigger victory — of between 63-75 per cent — for the “no” campaign.

“We’re a short step away from victory and there are still two votes to come,” Sako added, referring to the other two referendums which are possible under the Noumea Accord.

In recent years, France has faced protests and calls for independence in several of its overseas territories, which are a legacy of the country’s colonial history and are sometimes dubbed “the confetti of the French empire”.

French Guiana in South America and the Indian Ocean archipelago of Mayotte have been rocked by major protests over living standards and perceived neglect.

Closer to home, the Paris government also faces renewed calls for independence from nationalists on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which have been rebuffed by Macron.

 Balancing China in the Pacific? 

The 40-year-old French leader had largely stayed clear of the campaign in New Caledonia, but during a visit to Noumea in May he declared “France would be less beautiful” without the territory.

He also raised concerns over increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific, where Beijing has invested heavily in Vanuatu, a territory which broke from France and Britain in 1980.

Accusing the US of “turning its back on the region in recent months”, Macron said China was “building its hegemony step by step” in the Pacific — suggesting an independent New Caledonia could be Beijing’s next target.

Australia has also expressed concerns about China’s activities in neighbouring island states — which the Lowy Institute think-tank estimates received $1.78 billion in aid from Beijing from 2006-16.

Separatists had urged Kanak voters to choose self-determination for Kanaky, their name for New Caledonia, and throw off the shackles of the “colonial” authorities in Paris.

The Kanak community is economically disadvantaged compared with the white population and plagued by high school dropout rates, chronic unemployment and poor housing conditions.

But indigenous people make up less than 50 per cent of the electorate and some Kanaks back staying part of France, not least due to the 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) the French state hands to the islands every year.

Going it alone, “I’m not sure we have all the assets we’d need to succeed,” said Marc Gnipate, a 62-year-old pensioner.

AFP

US Hails Outcome Of Macedonia’s Name Change Referendum

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his son Dushko cast their ballot for a referendum to re-name their country North Macedonia on September 30, 2018. Photo: DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP

 

The United States has welcomed the outcome of a referendum in Macedonia on changing its name, that could bring it economically and militarily closer to the West.

Macedonian voters chose to support a plan to rename the country in a way that will end a decades-long spat with Greece and unlock a path to NATO and EU membership.

With ballots from 93 percent of polling stations counted, 91.3 percent of votes favoured the name changing to North Macedonia, compared to 5.7 percent opposed, according to the electoral commission’s official count.

However, only a third of the 1.8 million-strong electorate voted.

“The United States strongly supports the agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

She urged Macedonian lawmakers “to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions”.

Supporters of a boycott for the name-change referendum celebrate in front of the Parliament in Skopje on September 30, 2018, as the vote was marred by a low turnout, with only a third of the electorate voting. Photo: Armend NIMANI / AFP

AFP

Ireland Overturns Abortion Ban In Landslide Vote

‘Yes’ campaigners celebrate the official result of the Irish abortion referendum at Dublin Castle in Dublin on May 26, 2018 which showed a landslide decision in favour of repealing the constitutional ban on abortions. PHOTO: Paul FAITH / AFP

 

Ireland voted by a landslide to ditch its strict abortion laws in a landmark referendum that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said had finally lifted decades of stigma and shame.

More than 66 percent of voters in what has been a traditionally staunchly Catholic country backed repealing the constitutional ban on terminations, triggering scenes of tearful jubilation in Dublin on Saturday after a divisive and often emotional campaign.

Hugging, celebrating, singing and cheering wildly, thousands crammed into the courtyard of Dublin Castle, where the official result was declared, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Wonderful, wonderful, today is wonderful!” said 65-year-old Eileen Shields, who had been ostracised for falling pregnant outside of marriage when she was 18.

The crowds cheered and popped champagne corks as the result was announced. Women and men wearing “Repeal” tops and “Yes” badges waved Irish flags and placards reading “Thank you”, with love hearts on.

Speaking through tears, Stasia Clancy, 64, said: “This is like an explosion of the repression and the suppression of the last 100 years.”

At Dublin’s RDS count centre, 40-year-old nurse Ruth Bowie wept at the results.

She told AFP: “I had to leave my country to get the healthcare that I needed when I was told that my baby wouldn’t survive outside the womb and I’ve told my story over and over again just in the hope that this day would come — and it’s finally come.”

 ‘Veil of stigma lifted’

The final results of Friday’s referendum showed 66.4 percent voted for removing the constitutional ban, while 33.6 voted against.

Some 1,429,981 votes were cast for Yes. The turnout was 64 percent.

Among the 40 constituencies, the pro-choice vote peaked at 78 percent in Dublin Bay South, while rural Donegal was the only one to vote against liberalising abortion, by 52 percent.

“A quiet revolution has taken place,” Varadkar said in a speech at Dublin Castle.

“No more stigma. The veil of secrecy is lifted. No more isolation. The burden of shame is gone.”

He said Saturday would be remembered as the day Ireland “stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light. The day we came of age as a country.”

His government proposes allowing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

Varadkar said he wanted the law in force by the end of the year and Health Minister Simon Harris told AFP that the cabinet would meet on Tuesday to approve the drafting of legislation.

Crumbling church influence

The result is another hammer blow to the Roman Catholic Church’s authority in Ireland, coming three years after referendum voters backed legalising same-sex marriage by 62 percent.

The Church’s influence has crumbled in recent years due to a series of child sex abuse scandals.

The referendum comes three months before Pope Francis visits Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.

An exit poll for The Irish Times newspaper suggested 70 percent of women and 65 percent of men voted to overturn the ban.

People over 65 voted 60 percent against. However, all other age groups backed the proposal, with support at 87 percent among voters aged 18 to 24.

Ailbhe Smyth, 71, co-director of the official Together for Yes campaign, said real-life testimonies from women affected by the ban had helped swing the vote.

“The stories, the experiences, women’s voices, women’s and couples, it was a central part of our strategy,” she told reporters.

The Love Both official pro-life campaign said regardless of the result, “our work will continue to protect unborn babies and their mothers”.

“Our campaign does not end with the referendum, but when the government properly supports the mother and child,” it said.

Abortion is still banned in some 20 countries worldwide, while others have highly restrictive laws in place. In the European Union, predominantly Catholic Malta is the only country with a total ban.

‘The North is next’

Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on abortion following a 1983 referendum. Terminating a pregnancy carries a 14-year maximum jail term.

The law was tweaked in 2013 to allow terminations if the mother’s life is at risk.

The ban has led to thousands of women travelling each year to neighbouring Britain, where terminations are legal, or increasingly turning to abortion pills sold online.

Since 1983, around 170,000 Irish women have gone abroad for terminations.

In the UK, abortion is legal on the British mainland, but remains outlawed in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein’s party leaders from both sides of the border held up a placard at Dublin Castle reading: “The North is next”.

AFP

Burundi To Hold Referendum, Plans Extending President’s Rule

A portrait of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza is seen on a banner during a rally of the ruling CNDD-FDD party taking place three days prior to a referendum on a controversial constitutional reform on May 14, 2018, in Bujumbura. STRINGER / AFP

 

Burundians on Thursday will vote in a referendum on sweeping constitutional reforms that would shore up the power of President Pierre Nkurunziza and enable him to rule until 2034.

With opponents cowed, beaten, killed or living in exile, there seems little doubt the amendments will pass, enabling the 54-year-old — in power since 2005 — to remain in charge for another 16 years.

The campaign period, like the preceding three years of unrest triggered by Nkurunziza’s controversial but ultimately successful run for a third term, has been marked by intimidation and abuse, say human rights groups.

Opposition parties were allowed to rally for the first time since the start of the political crisis in 2015, drawing massive crowds during their “no” campaigns.

But critics say this was merely to provide a veneer of inclusivity.

“People seen as opposed to the referendum have been killed, kidnapped, beaten up, illegally arrested and held by state agents,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said Tuesday.

Some 4.8 million people, or a little under half the population, have signed up to vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which is running the referendum.

The changes will be adopted if more than 50 percent of cast ballots are in favour.

The vote is taking place in tightly-controlled conditions, and a presidential decree ruled earlier this month that anyone advising voters to boycott the vote risks up to three years in jail.

 Small country, big problems 

The tiny central African nation, with an equally small economy, has struggled to recover from a brutal and destructive civil war from 1993-2006 that left more than 300,000 people dead.

A peace deal, signed in the Tanzanian city of Arusha in 2000, paved the way to ending the fighting and included a provision that no leader could serve more than two five-year terms.

Nkurunziza circumvented that clause by running for a third term in 2015 that critics said was unconstitutional. A crackdown on opponents of his bid prompted a crisis that has seen 1,200 people killed and 400,000 flee their homes.

The violence and abuses are being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) while a sustained campaign against the press has forced most independent journalists to leave the country.

Nkurunziza — a fervent Christian who believes he has a God-given right to rule and was recently declared “visionary” by his CNDD-FDD party — now wants to rewrite the constitution and extend term lengths to seven years.

This would allow him to start again from scratch after the 2020 elections.

Other reforms weaken constitutional constraints over the feared national intelligence agency and allow the revision of ethnic quotas seen as crucial to peace after the war.

The new constitution also gets rid of one of two vice-presidents and shifts powers from the government to the president.

Burundi‘s exiled opposition, gathered in an alliance called CNARED, has called for a boycott of the referendum, which it describes as the “death knell” to the 2000 agreement that helped end the bloody civil war.

The government has accused dissidents, and neighbouring countries, of planning to undermine the referendum and has deployed military units to areas bordering Rwanda to the north and Congo to the west.

Earlier this month Burundi‘s press regulator suspended broadcasts by the BBC and Voice of America (VOA) and warned other radio stations, including Radio France International (RFI), against spreading “tendentious and misleading” information.

 African ‘third term-ism’ 

Amending constitutions to stay in power while holding the regular elections that foreign donors demand is a popular tactic among African leaders.

Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni changed the law in 2005 before running successfully for a third term. The 73-year-old has since removed age limits and is expected to run for a sixth term in 2021.

Cameroon’s Paul Biya followed Museveni’s lead in 2008 and remains in power today, as does Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guelleh who removed term limits in 2010.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame in 2015 changed the constitution and is now set to rule until 2034 while Congo-Brazzaville’s Denis Sassou Nguesso also pushed through the removal of term limits the same year.

Zambia’s Edgar Lungu is trying the third term gambit, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila has simply refused to hold elections since the end of his constitutional terms 18 months ago.

Elsewhere in Africa, leaders have had less success avoiding term limits, with moves blocked or votes lost in Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Senegal in the last dozen years.

AFP

Spain’s King Condemns Catalan Independence Bid

This handout picture released on October 3, 2017 by the Spanish Royal House (Casa Real) shows Spain’s King Felipe VI addressing the nation on October 3, 2017 in Madrid, as the country grapples with its biggest political crisis in decades over an independence drive in Catalonia. Francisco Gomez Casa Real / CASA REAL / AFP

Spain’s King Felipe intervened dramatically Tuesday in the crisis over Catalan leaders’ bid for independence, accusing them of threatening the country’s stability and urging the state to defend “constitutional order.”

The 49-year-old king abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia as the standoff dragged the country into its deepest political crisis in decades.

He spoke after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury at violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.

Catalan regional leaders held the vote in defiance of the national government which brands it illegal — as did Felipe on Tuesday.

“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said of the Catalan leadership.

“They have placed themselves totally outside the law and democracy,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order.”

– Mass protests –

Felipe repeated his earlier calls for harmony between Spaniards, but it was a delicate balancing act for the Spanish sovereign after Sunday’s violence.

People watching in a bar in Barcelona whistled and booed after the king’s speech.

“It is a real disgrace… Far from solving anything it has added fuel to the fire,” said Domingo Gutierrez, a 61-year-old trucker, originally from the southern Andalucia region.

“He did not say a word about the people who were injured… I have never been pro-independence, my parents are from Andalucia. But now I am more for independence than anyone, thanks to people like that.”

– Catalans denounce ‘occupation’ –

Police unions and political experts warned that Spain’s government risks losing control of the north eastern region.

It is considered Spain’s worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981, which was defused by Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I.

Crowds in Barcelona on Tuesday yelled for national security forces to get out of the region, branding them “occupation forces” and raising their middle fingers at a police helicopter circling overhead.

“The streets will always be ours,” young protesters yelled.

City police put the number of demonstrators at 700,000.

Barcelona football club refused to train as part of an accompanying strike, which also slowed down public transport and paralysed freight shipments in the port of Barcelona.

– Dragged by hair –

Pictures of police beating unarmed Catalan voters with batons and dragging some by the hair during Sunday’s ballots drew international criticism.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention on Sunday, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured. Four were hospitalised, two in serious condition.

The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.

– Government ‘losing control’ –

Angry protesters earlier rallied outside Catalan hotels where state security forces were lodged, police groups said on Tuesday.

“They are fleeing from hotel to hotel, hiding like rats,” said the spokesman for Spain’s main police union SUP, Ramon Cosio.

Two hotels said local authorities had ordered them to ask police officers staying there to leave. The officers left and were rehoused in barracks, police unions said.

Spanish authorities “are losing control, it is clear,” Javier Perez Royo, a constitutional law professor at the University of Seville, told AFP.

“And the government of the nation is taking steps in a very dangerous direction.”

– ‘Inciting rebellion’ –

A rich industrial region of 7.5 million people, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

It has its own language and cultural traditions.

Its claims for independence date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

Madrid blames the Catalan regional authorities for the tensions.

“The government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets,” Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Tuesday.

He said his government would take “all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment”.

– International call –

Puigdemont declared Sunday that Catalonia had “won the right to an independent state”.

His regional government claimed that 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate — but the vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.

The regional government said 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but opinion polls indicate Catalans are split.

Puigdemont has said he will present the results to the region’s parliament, where separatist lawmakers hold a majority.

AFP

91 Injured In Catalonia Referendum Clashes, Says Official

Spanish Guardia Civil guards drag a man outside a polling station in Sant Julia de Ramis, where Catalan president was supposed to vote, on October 1, 2017, on the day of a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid. RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

At least 91 people were injured in Catalonia on Sunday as police and protesters clashed over a banned independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, the Catalan government said.

A total of 337 people visited hospitals and health centres, a spokeswoman for the Catalan government’s health department said. So far 91 have been confirmed to be injured, one of them with a serious eye injury, she added.

AFP

Macron Invites Iraq PM To Paris Over Kurdish Vote

EU Door Stays Open To UK Until Brexit Concluded - Macron
Photo: politico.eu.com

French President, Emmanuel Macron, has invited Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to visit Paris on Thursday, saying the aim is to calm tensions after the deeply divisive Kurdish independence referendum.

In a statement, the presidency said France wanted to “help Iraq to stop tensions from setting in” following the vote on Monday, which saw Iraqi Kurdistan overwhelmingly support secession.

In a phone call on Wednesday, “Macron stressed the importance of preserving the unity and integrity of Iraq while recognising the rights of the Kurdish people. Any escalation must be avoided,” the presidency said in the statement late Friday.

“Faced with the priority of fighting Daesh and the stabilisation of Iraq, Iraqis must remain united,” it added, referring to the Islamic State group.

The office of Abadi, however, on Saturday denied that Macron’s invitation had any link to the crisis with Iraqi Kurdistan.

“There is no relation between the invitation and the crisis caused by the unconstitutional referendum,” it said.

“The visit aims to reinforce bilateral relations and to focus on the fight against terrorism in the region in which Iraq has achieved enormous victories,” it added.

Read Also: 92% Voted For Independence In Iraqi Kurd Referendum

Iraqi forces ousted IS from the northern Nineveh province on August 31, and is now fighting to retake the jihadist group’s last footholds in the country.

Abadi’s office stressed the invitation was first made when French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly visited Baghdad on August 26.

It said Macron had made no mention of “the need to recognise the rights of the Kurds or stopping an escalation by Baghdad”.

“On the contrary, there was a condemnation of the insistence of the Kurdish leadership to hold this referendum and expose the region to instability”.

While Monday’s independence vote was non-binding, it has nonetheless sent tensions in the country and the region soaring.

In response to the poll, the Iraqi government has cut Kurdistan’s direct air links with the outside world, partially isolating the northern region.

Turkey and Iran, which both have their own Kurdish minorities, have denounced the referendum, while the United States described it as “unilateral” and lacking legitimacy.

AFP

Iran, Iraq Plan Joint Drills Over Kurdish Independence Vote

Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 16, 2017. SAFIN HAMED / AFP

Iran will hold a joint military exercise with Iraq in response to the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s “illegitimate” independence referendum, an Iranian military official announced on Saturday.

Iran, which borders Iraq and the autonomous Kurdish region, strongly opposed the vote held Monday, fearing it would provoke separatists among its own Kurdish population.

Iraq’s central government has demanded the annulment of the referendum, which resulted in a huge “yes” for independence.

“A joint military exercise between Iran’s armed forces and units from the Iraqi army will be held in the coming days along the shared border,” Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Masoud Jazayeri told reporters.

Read Also: 92% Voted For Independence In Iraqi Kurd Referendum

The drills will take place at several crossings on Iran’s border with Iraqi Kurdistan, he said, speaking after a high-level meeting of Iranian commanders.

“In the meeting, the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and the illegitimacy of the independence referendum in northern Iraq were stressed again and necessary decisions were taken to provide security at the borders and welcome Iraq’s central government forces to take position at border crossings.”

Tehran has accepted a request by Baghdad for an Iraqi army presence at border crossings.

Iraqi soldiers on Tuesday also took part in a Turkish military drill close to the Iraqi frontier.

Iran has been cooperating with Baghdad in building pressure on Kurdistan, notably by suspending all flights to and from the autonomous region and banning fuel exports and imports.

AFP

Police Seal Off 1,300 Polling Stations In Catalonia

Protestors hold Spanish flags during a demonstration against independence in Catalonia called by the xenophobic far-right party ‘Platform for Catalonia’ (PXC) in front of the Spanish National Police headquarters in Barcelona, on September 30, 2017.Photo: PAU BARRENA / AFP

Police in Catalonia have sealed off 1,300 polling stations in the region as authorities move to stop an independence referendum which has been banned by Madrid from taking place, the central government said Saturday.

“Of the 2,315 polling stations… 1,300 have been sealed off by the Mossos d’Esquadra,” the Catalan police force, said Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia, adding that 163 of these were being “peacefully” occupied by people who will be allowed to leave though no one will be allowed in.

AFP

Catalan Official Accuses EU Of Tacitly Backing Madrid

Catalan Socialist Party PSC spokesman Miguel Iceta (L) protests from his seat
during a session at the Catalan parliament to debate and vote a cessation law on an independence, in Barcelona, on September 7, 2017. Catalonia’s government denounced a “covert state of siege” imposed by the central government in Madrid, after a prosecutor said the region’s leaders would face charges over a planned independence referendum.PAU BARRENA / AFP

The European Union is tacitly backing the Spanish government’s “repressive actions” to prevent the Catalan region from holding a weekend independence referendum, a leading Catalan official charged Thursday.

The official, Raul Romeva, urged the 28-nation EU to end its silence and defend its founding treaty guaranteeing democratic norms, which he alleged Madrid is now violating.

“Failing to rise its voice, failing even to call for a political dialogue as it seems to be the case so far is not neutral,” Romeva told a press conference in Brussels.

“This is perceived by the Spanish state as an endorsement of the repressive actions” it is carrying out, said Romeva, who handles foreign affairs for the regional government.

The Catalan government’s plans to hold an independence vote on Sunday in defiance of court orders ruling it illegal have triggered large protests in Barcelona and a major crackdown from Madrid.

However, EU officials have stayed doggedly tight-lipped even as diplomats privately voice serious concern at a situation some regard as a challenge to fundamental European values.

Officials from the European Commission, the EU executive, have repeatedly fended off questions on the Catalan crisis with variations on the same response: “The commission respects Spain’s constitutional order and legal framework.”

But Romeva called on the European Commission and the European Parliament to “stand for values and principles enshrined” in the founding treaties.

“Civil rights are being violated as I speak and the quality of democracy in Spain is eroding day after day,” he said.

Analysts have said that an independent Catalonia would trigger a crisis the EU would find hard to manage as it would energise separatist movements in other European countries.

AFP

92% Voted For Independence In Iraqi Kurd Referendum

Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 16, 2017. Photo:SAFIN HAMED / AFP

More than 92 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in a referendum, according to the first official results announced on Wednesday, two days after the disputed plebiscite.

Electoral commission officials told a news conference in the regional capital Arbil that 92.73 percent of the 3,305,925 people who cast ballots voted “yes” in Monday’s referendum, which had a turnout of 72.61 percent.

Longtime Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani said the vote would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should instead open the door to negotiations.

But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told lawmakers on Wednesday there was no question of using its results as the basis for talks.

“The referendum must be annulled and dialogue initiated in the framework of the constitution. We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum,” Abadi said.

“We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he said.

AFP

Police Probes Catalan Referendum Website Developers

People hold banners demanding democracy and “Esteladas” (pro-independence Catalan flags) in front of civil guards during a demonstration against a police search in the headquarters of the weekly newspaper “El Vallenc” in Valls, on September 9, 2017. The Spanish Civil Guard searched today “El Vallenc” newspaper’s headquarters in Valls, which would be suspected of having printed ballots for the banned referendum on independence in Catalonia, convened for October 1.
Lluis GENE / AFP

Police in Catalonia said they questioned 15 people accused of disobedience for allegedly developing web platforms dedicated to an outlawed independence referendum, as tensions rise less than a week before the vote.

Officers from the Guardia Civil police force also paid a visit to several town halls to ask them to hand over documents related to the banned vote on October 1, the Association of Pro-Independence Municipalities told AFP.

These are the latest in a series of measures taken by police and the courts to try and stop the referendum from taking place in a region sharply divided over independence.

A police spokesman said the 15 questioned were accused of allegedly “disseminating a website for people to participate in a referendum declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.”

He added they allegedly crafted web platforms that “made it easy for people to get documents… to organise the plebiscite.”

They will be released pending further questioning by a judge, he said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has tweeted several links to websites directing people where to vote on Sunday, but these have been taken down after a court ordered sites that facilitate such information be blocked.

Meanwhile Miquel Sala, mayor of Oliana in northwestern Catalonia, said three Guardia Civil officers had visited on Monday morning.

Sala is one of more than 700 mayors who have pledged to cooperate with the referendum.

Absent at the time, he said his staff only handed over a report compiled for internal use summing up Madrid’s position on the vote.

Sala has also signed a manifesto pledging his cooperation for the referendum but refused to hand that over and will only do so if a judge asks, he added.

The measures taken by Madrid have contributed to a spike in tensions in Catalonia.

They have also dealt a blow to separatists leaders’ plans to hold a referendum with a semblance of legitimacy.

Key members of the team organising the vote have been put under official investigation for disobedience, malfeasance and embezzlement of public funds.

Organisers of protests last week have been threatened with charges of sedition.

And police have seized close to ten million ballot papers, as well as other items destined for the vote.

This has prompted the Catalan regional government to accuse central authorities of imposing an “undeclared state of emergency.”

AFP