Diplomatic spat erupts between Spain and Flanders
A diplomatic spat broke out between the Spanish and Flemish governments after the president of the Flemish parliament made statements in support of Catalan separatists.
The Spanish government stripped the Flemish representative in Madrid of his diplomatic status in retaliation for the remarks by Jan Peumans, in which he criticized Spainâs response to last yearâs Catalan independence referendum.
Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois called Spainâs decision a âvery unfriendly actâ and said Wednesday he would summon the Spanish ambassador as soon as possible, according to Belgian media.
During the opening of a photo exhibition on the push for Catalonian independence last week, Flemish Parliament President Peumans said of efforts to stop the referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish judiciary: âAnyone who uses violence at the ballot box burns democracy â¦ True democrats honor the ballot box as a symbol of the will of the people.â
He add ed that violence during a vote is âout of the question,â and âso is violence against politicians, because of their opinion. And imprisoning politicians is an act of violence.â
The Spanish ministry said it would not recognize anyone else who tried to succeed Hebbelinck.
Peumans previously sent a public letter of support to former Catalan parliament President Carme Forcadell, who is detained along with other former regional leaders pending trial over their role in last yearâs independence push. In the letter, Peumans called her detention âan insidious actâ and âproof that the central government in Spain is not able to â¦ be part of a modern democratic European Union.â
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell summoned Belgian Ambassador Marc Calcoen on Tuesday and later confirmed that the Flemish representative in Madrid, AndrÃ© Hebbelinck, was being stripped of his diplomatic status and immunity.
In a statement, the Spanish foreign ministry directly referred to Peumansâ comments at the exhibition as being âunacceptable and inappropriate from a country which is a friend and ally, as Belgium is.â
The statement added that Hebbelinck will now be considered just an employee of the Belgian Embassy, and the Spanish ministry would not recognize anyone else who tries to succeed him.
Protesters hold portraits of separatist leaders in pre-trial jail and exile in front of the Lledoners prison in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada | David Ramos/Getty Ima ges
Hebbelinck said Borrell is wrong to have taken this step.
âYou cannot revoke consular or diplomatic licenses for a diplomat. You can only do that if the government that he represents has made a mistake,â Hebbelinck said, adding that this is not the case. âTechnically speaking, the Spanish foreign minister is barking up the wrong tree.â
The Catalan regional government said in a statement that it âregrets the decision of the Spanish foreign affairs ministry,â calling it âcontrary to the principle of respect for the right of citizens and their elected representatives to express their opinion freely.â
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