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Echoes of Cold War as NATO Mulls New North Atlantic Command

NATO needs to establish a new regional base for protecting the North Atlantic against increased Russian naval strength, a senior alliance general said on Monday, as allies consider the next step in a military build-up reminiscent of the Cold War.

General Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s military committee, will help put the case to allied defense ministers this week for a new planning and strategy base to be located in a chosen NATO ally and focused on keeping Atlantic shipping lanes safe from enemy submarines. It would be the first such expansion in two decades after NATO sharply cut back its commands in 2011.

“If we look at the growing capabilities of countries like Russia and China, with a global reach, it is quite obvious that maritime lines of communication have to be protected,” Pavel, a Czech army general, told Reuters in an interview.

“We observe increased Russian naval activity in the Arctic in the northern Atlantic … We also assess that for any future crisis, the reinforcement of Europe and free lines of communication will be vital for European security,” Pavel said.

If approved, the new North Atlantic Command would survey a vast area and, in the event of any potential conflict with Russia, have the task of making sea lanes safe for U.S reinforcements to Europe.

Strong in symbolism, the decision is unlikely to revive a much larger Cold War-era Atlantic Command that was disbanded in 2002, but it would broaden NATO’s new deterrent against Russia.

Despite NATO’s cooperation with Moscow in the Balkans after a 1997 pact formalized friendly ties, the alliance sees the Kremlin’s incursions in Georgia and eastern Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea as unacceptable breaches of international law.

Pavel described Russia as a “potential threat,” while the West was alarmed by Moscow’s war games in September that massed tens of thousands of troops and may have tested electronic warfare tools on Latvia, NATO officials say.

Since Russia’s 2014 Crimea annexation, NATO has sought to reassure its Baltic allies by sending troops to the Baltics, Poland and the Black Sea, setting up a network of NATO outposts, holding more exercises and preparing a rapid response force, including air, maritime and special operations components.

The United States have also returned tanks and troops to Europe after a long drawdown at the end of the Cold War.

Russia condemns the moves as an aggressive strategy on its frontiers that threatens to destabilize eastern Europe.

Logistics, Costs

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will join other allied defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday to decide whether to approve the North Atlantic Command, as well as a logistics command to focus on moving troops more quickly across Europe.

With renewed purpose since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NATO allies are broadly in favor of the two commands. Many are keen to lock in U.S. support given President Donald Trump’s early doubts about the alliance he now says he strongly backs.

Pavel cautioned that cost is likely to be an issue for NATO governments and said there were no shortcuts in deterrence.

“I believe we are now out of the realm of doing more with less. We simply have to understand that wherever we want to do more, there will be resource implications,” Pavel said.

The alliance is being asked by Trump to do more in Afghanistan, in fighting Islamist militants and to stop migrants from the Middle East and North Africa reaching Europe.

Many European NATO nations are still struggling to meet an alliance goal by 2024 to spend two percent of economic output on defense every year.

“We can call it modernization, we can call it adaptation. We simply have to adapt to a new reality,” Pavel said.

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Catalan Five Get Conditional Freedom in Belgium

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four close separatist allies regained their freedom at the end of a tumultuous Sunday that started when they surrendered in Brussels to face possible extradition to Spain for allegedly plotting a rebellion.


But a Brussels investigative judge quickly ruled there was no reason to put the five politicians behind bars and released them on condition they stay in Belgium and attend their court sessions within two weeks.


Hours after the former Catalan regional president and four ex-ministers turned themselves in to Belgian authorities, Puigdemont’s party put him forward as its leader for an upcoming regional election called by the Spanish government – meaning he could end up vocally heading a campaign from Brussels while he fights a forced return to Spain.


The decision was rife with implications for Spain and political consequences for Catalonia, the restive Spanish region fighting Madrid for independence.


The five Catalan politicians who fled to Belgium after Spanish authorities removed them from office October 28 were taken into custody Sunday on European arrest warrants issued after they failed to show up in Madrid last week for questioning.


In Belgium, even the prosecutor didn’t think it was necessary to detain the five after Puigdemont made it amply clear he would fully cooperate with Belgian authorities.


“The request made this afternoon by the Brussels’ Prosecutor’s Office for the provisional release of all persons sought has been granted by the investigative judge,” a statement from the prosecutor’s office said.


The office said the whole extradition process could take more than 60 days, well past the December 21 date set for the regional election in Catalonia.


Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers left for Belgium last week as the Spanish government, seeking to quash Catalan separatists’ escalating steps to secede, applied constitutional authority to take over running the region.


The officials said they wanted to make their voices heard in the heart of the European Union and have refused to return to Spain, maintaining they could not get fair trials there.


Nine other deposed Catalan Cabinet members heeded a Spanish judge’s summons for questioning in Madrid on Thursday. After questioning them, the judge ordered eight of them to jail without bail while her investigation continues. The ninth spent a night behind bars before posting bail and being released.

Political jockeying

Whether in Brussels or Barcelona, Puigdemont is at the heart of political jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain’s worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.


While parties opposed to breaking away from Spain try to rally support to win back control of Catalonia’s regional parliament, pro-secession parties are debating whether or not to form one grand coalition for the upcoming ballot.


Another former president of the region, Artur Mas, told Catalan public television on Sunday that he backed a fusion of parties for the December vote. But Mas said the main goals of secession supporters must be recovering self-rule and the release of the jailed separatists.


“If we add the issue of independence, we won’t get as many people to support us,” said Mas, who was the first Catalan leader to harness the political momentum for secession.


An opinion poll published by Barcelona’s La Vanguardia newspaper on Sunday forecast a tight election between parties for and against Catalonia ending the region’s century-old ties to the rest of Spain.


The poll predicts that pro-secession parties would win between 66-69 seats, less than the 72 seats they won two years ago. Sixty-eight seats are needed for a majority.


Puigdemont and his fellow separatists claimed that a referendum on secession held on October 1 gave them a mandate for independence, even though it had been prohibited by the nation’s highest court and only 43 percent of the electorate took part in the vote, which failed to meet international standards and was disrupted by violent police raids.


Catalonia’s Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on October 27. The next day, Spain’s central government used the extraordinary constitutional powers to fire Catalonia’s government, take charge of its administrations, dissolve its parliament and call the December election.


Hundreds of pro-secession Catalans gathered in towns across the region on Sunday.


“We want to send a message to Europe that even if our president is still in Brussels and all our government now is in Madrid jailed, that the independence movement still isn’t finished,” 24-year-old protester Adria Ballester said in Barcelona.

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As Disasters Surge, Nations Must Cut Emissions Faster, Experts Urge

With hurricanes, floods and other impacts of climate change becoming increasingly destructive, countries urgently need to step up their ambitions to cut emissions if they are to keep global warming within safe limits, experts said ahead of U.N. climate talks starting on Monday.

About 163 countries have submitted plans on how they will contribute to meeting the Paris climate agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

But put together, the plans are likely to lead to a 3 degree temperature rise this century, according to the United Nations.

Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the national plans delivered in advance of Paris, “were well known at the time to fall short of the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals.”

But the agreement also calls for countries to take stock of international progress on climate action and ratchet up the ambition of their national plans accordingly.

The first stock taking is set for next year, with the first more ambitious plans due in 2020.

“That will, if followed, eventually get the world on track to the goals and the aim of climate neutrality in the second half of the century,” Nuttall said.

“The U.N. climate conference in Bonn … needs to be a Launch pad to that next ambition moment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This year has seen particularly severe weather of the type climate scientists have long warned about: severe floods in Asia, devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean and United States, and wildfires in California and southern Europe.

In the effort to reduce emissions and stave off worsening impacts, “we’re in a race against time,” Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the OECD, last week.

“We have to make it stick that it’s good business to protect the environment but also that it’s good policy,” he said.

As 195 nations meet starting Monday in Bonn for U.N. climate talks, they will be working to create rules to implement the Paris agreement, including on sometimes contentious issues such as how reductions of climate-changing gases should be reported and checked by other nations.

But time is short, with global emissions of climate changing gases needing to peak by 2020 – just three years away – in order to keep warming to relatively safe levels, according to the World Resources Institute.

Camilla Born, a senior policy adviser for E3G, a London-based climate think tank said: “We are going to have to show increased ambition by 2020 if we’re going to really get on track to delivering those long-term goals.”

“This is a broader and deeper task than we’ve ever seen before. This isn’t just a conversation about raising targets. This is about structuring our economies differently.”

“We are moving in that direction, but we need to move there much faster,” Born told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s not a done deal but we’ve got lots of ingredients to make that happen,” she said.

Where’s the money?

Many developing country plans to curb emissions and adapt to climate change depend on receiving enough finance to implement them.

Wealthy countries have pledged to raise $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

But more than $4 trillion is needed for developing countries to implement their plans, according to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group which represents the world’s poorest 47 countries.

“LDCs and other developing countries cannot take ambitious action to address climate change or protect themselves against its impacts unless all countries fulfill and outdo the pledges they have made,” said Gebru Jember Endalew, the Ethiopian chairof the group.

“(We) face the unique and unprecedented challenge of lifting our people out of poverty and achieving sustainable development without relying on fossil fuels,” he said.

The group is pushing for the Bonn talks to come up with more promises of cash to fund the needed changes. Least-developed countries alone, in their climate action plans, have said they need at least $200 billion just to adapt to worsening climate impacts, including harsher droughts and worsening floods,Endalew said.

Not finding it will be “a serious barrier to ambitious climate action”, he said.

Many of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific have seen particular devastation from floods, storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

With such impacts following a global temperature rise of just 1.2 degrees Celsius, many poorer nations and organizations representing the world’s vulnerable are pushing hard to keep temperature rises to not just well below 2 degrees but to a more ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees is “a critical threshold which can still prevent many of the worst impacts on poor populations”, said Sven Harmeling of CARE International.

The Bonn talks “must provide a clear way forward so that countries come back with more ambitious plans to cut emissions,” said Harmeling, who is head of CARE’s delegation to the talks.

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US Commerce Chief Tied to Russian Shipping Venture, Leaked Documents Show

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shares significant business interests through a shipping venture in Russia with President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and an oligarch subject to American sanctions, newly leaked documents showed Sunday.

Ross, a 79-year-old billionaire industrialist, has an investment in partnerships valued at between $2 million and $10 million in the shipper, Navigator Holdings, according to his government ethics disclosures.

The shipping company earns millions of dollars a year transporting natural gas for Sibur, a Russian energy company that is partly owned by Kirill Shamalov, the husband of Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, and Gennady Timchenko, the oligarch who is Putin’s judo partner, according to the documents. Timchenko is subject to the U.S. sanctions because of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its subsequent support for pro-Russian separatists fighting the Kyiv government’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

Ross sold off numerous holdings when he joined President Donald Trump’s Cabinet earlier this year to avoid conflicts of interest while he promotes U.S. commerce throughout the world. But he kept his Navigator stake, which has been held in a chain of partnerships in the Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven where Ross has placed much of his estimated $2 billion in wealth.

‘Paradise Papers’

Ross did not disclose the Russian business link when he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as commerce secretary, but it surfaced in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents leaked from Appleby, a Bermuda-based offshore law firm that advises the wealthy elite on global financial transactions as they look to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.  Appleby, says it has investigated all the allegations, and found “there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.”

The cache of documents, called the Paradise Papers, was first leaked to a German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media, including The Guardian in Britain, The New York Times and NBC News in the U.S., all of which reported on the Ross investment on Sunday.

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesman, said he removes himself as secretary from matters related to trans-oceanic shipping and consults with the agency’s ethics officials “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The disclosure of Ross’ financial interests in Russia comes as a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and three congressional panels are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an effort the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was led by Putin in an effort to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win the White House.

Several Trump campaign associates have come under scrutiny, but until the disclosures about Ross’ holdings, there have been no reports of business links between top Trump officials and any member of Putin’s family and his inner circle.

The disclosures will likely put pressure on world leaders, including Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, who have both pledged to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes.

“Congress has the power to crack down on offshore tax avoidance. There are copious loopholes in our federal tax code that essentially incentivize companies to cook the books and make U.S. profits appear to be earned offshore. The House tax bill introduced late last week does nothing to close these loopholes,” said Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

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Hundreds Arrested at Anti-Government Rally in Moscow

Hundreds of protesters were arrested in Moscow Sunday during a demonstration against Russian president Vladimir Putin coinciding with celebrations of Russia’s National Unity Day holiday.

According to OVD-Info, which monitors crackdowns on demonstrations, 360 people had been arrested in demonstrations across the country by 5pm on Sunday. Moscow police had put the figure in the capital at 260.

Tass news agency said that many protesters in Moscow had knives and brass knuckles.

Protesters at the unsanctioned demonstration are believed to be linked to nationalist politician and Kremlin critic Vyacheslav Maltsev and his Artillery Preparation movement — a group declared extremist and banned in Russia.

Self-exiled Maltsev said on YouTube that Russia is up for a “revolution” this weekend.

Putin declared November 4 “National Unity Day” in 2005 to mark Russia’s victory over Poland in 1612.


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London Increasingly in Spotlight in Transatlantic Russia Probes

The indictment last week of former Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who admitted lying about contacts with Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, is turning the spotlight on London as an important hub of suspected Kremlin meddling in Western politics, say analysts and Western officials.

Papadopoulos, who White House spokespeople say was a low-level and unimportant foreign policy adviser in last year’s campaign, was initially introduced to shadowy Russian contacts by a London-based globe-trotting Maltese academic, according to the indictment of Papadopoulos unsealed last week by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But the British capital is now featuring more prominently than just the venue of meetings between Papadopoulos and Russian officials.

Probes launched on both sides of the Atlantic into suspected Russian subversion of last year’s White House race and the 2016 Brexit referendum are increasingly highlighting the British capital as a hotbed of Russian intelligence activity that links individuals and groups of interest to investigators in Washington as well as in Britain.

Political pressure is mounting on the ruling Conservative government of Theresa May to launch a broad formal inquiry into whether Moscow sought to influence the Brexit vote.

The demands came as it emerged that three senior past and present Foreign Office ministers, including the current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson may have been targeted by individuals identified by the FBI last week as central to the Mueller probe.

Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election and accusations of collusion between Trump campaign aides and the Kremlin. The Trump administration has denied there was any collusion. Papadopolous reached a deal last month with Mueller, agreeing to plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the presidential race.

According to the indictment Papadopoulos was offered “thousands of emails” of “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in his meetings. Those offers came months before Wikileaks, whose head Julian Assange is based in London, published emails hacked from Democratic Party servers in what U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed as part of an “active measures operation” by Moscow.

Britain’s Observer newspaper reported Sunday that Papadopoulos and the Maltese professor, who was not named in the Mueller indictment but was subsequently identified as Joseph Mifsud, had several meetings or encounters with British ministers. As recently as two weeks ago Mifsud reportedly attended a dinner at which Boris Johnson was present and was the guest speaker. Foreign Office officials have told the British press that Johnson did not “knowingly” speak with Mifsud.

Before the dinner, the Maltese academic, who has boasted to colleagues he has met Russian leader Vladimir Putin, told friends he planned to raise the current Brexit negotiations with Johnson, according to en email obtained by Byline, an independent news-site.

The disclosure about the meetings has prompted opposition party calls for the British government to launch a full-fledged inquiry into Russian intelligence activity. It is adding to growing unease about whether Moscow tried to influence Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

Tom Watson, deputy leader of Britain’s Labour party, has dubbed the meetings “extraordinary” and argues it is vital to know if the Kremlin had sought to influence British politics. The disclosure of Mifsud’s attendance at a Conservative dinner featuring Johnson comes just days after the British Foreign Secretary dismissed worries about possible Russian interference in British politics, saying, “I haven’t seen a sausage.”

Earlier this year, Britain’s Electoral Commission announced it was investigating whether the Leave campaign run by Nigel Farage, a leading Brexiter and Trump supporter, received “impermissible” donations. The elections watchdog said, “this followed an assessment which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offenses under the law may have occurred.”

Last week, the Electoral Commission launched a second narrower probe into the source of some of the donations and loans to Farage’s campaign amid allegations by Labour lawmaker and former minister Ben Bradshaw that the funds may have been “dark money” channeled to disguise its origin.

A leading Brexit campaign financier, Arron Banks, says Russia had no hand in funding Farage’s campaign. “They’re in a tizzy. They think it was funded by Russia,” Banks told The Times newspaper. “Of course it didn’t. It came from my bank account.”

The denial is not quieting a mounting chorus in Britain’s Parliament for a bigger investigation. Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker, is also urging a formal inquiry, citing “concerns emerging about possible Russian interference in the EU referendum.

British election officials say they are talking also with social media companies to establish whether Russian agencies may have used Facebook and Twitter to try to influence the Brexit vote in much the same way investigators allege they attempted to do in the U.S. election last year.


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Catalonia’s Puigdemont Turns Himself In

Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers turned themselves in Sunday in Brussels, following Spain’s issuance of a warrant for their arrests.

Puigdemont had said Saturday he intended to cooperate with officials in Brussels, where he fled last week, tweeting, “We are prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain.”

A Spanish judge issued the warrant for Puigdemont a day after she jailed nine members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence. One person was later granted bail.

The National Court judge filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Puigdemont and his four aides, and issued separate European search and arrest warrants to alert Interpol in case they fled Belgium.

Belgian federal prosecutors said they had received the arrest warrant and could question Puigdemont in coming days.

Puigdemont and the four others were being sought on charges that included rebellion, sedition and embezzlement as a result of a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.

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Ex-Catalonian Leader to Comply With European Arrest Warrant

The former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region said Saturday that he would cooperate with Belgian officials following Spanish authorities’ issuance of a European warrant for his arrest.

Carles Puigdemont said in a tweet: “We are prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain.”

A Spanish judge issued the warrant for Puigdemont a day after she jailed nine members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence. One person was later granted bail.

Puigdemont, who was thought to be in Belgium, didn’t specify his current location, though he and several aides fled to Brussels last week after Spanish authorities removed them from office.

The National Court judge filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Puigdemont and his four aides, and issued separate European search and arrest warrants to alert Interpol in case they fled Belgium.

Belgian federal prosecutors said they had received the arrest warrant and could question Puigdemont in coming days.

Puigdemont’s Belgian attorney did not answer calls requesting comment, but had said that his client would fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum.

Puigdemont and the four others were being sought on charges that included rebellion, sedition and embezzlement as a result of a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.

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Russia Says No Cooperation with US on North Korea

Russia is not currently cooperating with the United States on discussions about North Korea, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly told the Russian RIA news agency.

“There is no cooperation so far. Only periodic exchanges of views,” Peskov said, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are likely to meet during an Asian economic forum next week.

If the two leaders do meet, Peskov said there is a “great probability” they would discuss the situation in North Korea.

Trump and Putin will be in the Philippines to attend the East Asia Summit, in addition to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting.

Ahead of Trump’s visit, two supersonic aircraft conducted a bombing exercise over the Korean Peninsula as a show of force against North Korea. The B-1B bombers were escorted on the simulated drills Thursday by two South Korean fighter jets, according to an official with that country’s military.

North Korean state TV denounced the exercise as a “surprise nuclear strike drill” and said “gangster-like U.S. imperialists” were attempting to provoke a nuclear war.

The increased tensions on the Korean peninsula come as North Korea has, in recent months, tested nuclear bombs, missiles that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland and launched multiple missiles over Japan.


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Arrest Warrant Issued for Former Catalan Leader

A Spanish judge on Friday issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ousted president, a day after she jailed members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence.

The national court judge issued the warrant for Carles Puigdemont in response to a request from state prosecutors.

Puigdemont flew to Brussels earlier this week with a handful of his deposed ministers after Spanish authorities removed him and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with the declaration, despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.

Puigdemont’s Belgian attorney said he would fight extradition without seeking political asylum.

The ousted president told Belgian state broadcaster RTBF he would turn himself in to Belgian authorities, “but not to Spanish justice.”

He said he would run for re-election and, if need be, run his campaign from Belgium, where he remained in hiding.

Puigdemont told RBTF Friday that he was “ready to be the candidate” in the election, scheduled for late December.

“We can run a campaign anywhere because we’re in a globalized world,” he said.

The beleaguered president was due to appear at Spain’s National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion case brought by Spanish prosecutors, but he did not show up.

The judge jailed nine former members of Catalonia’s separatist government on Wednesday, while they were being investigated on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement connected to their push for achieving the region’s independence from Spain.

She later granted one of them bail at $58,300.

In an earlier address from Brussels broadcast by Catalan regional television TV3, Puigdemont called for the release of “the legitimate government of Catalonia” as hundreds of people gathered outside the Catalan parliament also calling for them to be freed.

“As the legitimate president of Catalonia, I demand the release of the members of my cabinet,” he said. “I demand respect for all political options, and I demand the end of the political repression.”

Puigdemont said the imprisonment of former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras and eight members of his cabinet was an attack on democracy and not compatible with a “Europe in the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, data released Friday showed that unemployment rose sharply in Catalonia in October, more than anywhere else in Spain, as companies fled in the midst of the country’s worst political crisis in decades.