MADRID — A dispute between Spanish authorities and Catalan separatists over a yellow ribbon symbol is building into a hot issue ahead of Spain’s general election next month.
The independence-minded Catalan government has failed to obey an order from the country’s electoral board to remove from the region’s public buildings the large ribbons, used to protest the imprisonment and trial of separatist leaders for their role in a failed attempt to declare independence in 2017.
Quim Torra, Catalonia’s regional president who always wears a small yellow ribbon in his lapel, has asked the board for more time to remove the symbols after a deadline passed.
Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s main opposition Popular Party, on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to crack down on the Catalan separatists. He said the central government should take administrative control of the wealthy Catalan region.
The ribbons have for months been a flashpoint for Catalans seeking independence and those wanting to remain in Spain. While separatists tie the ribbons to benches, traffic posts and trash cans, others among Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents remove them. They have now become a headline issue ahead of the April 28 ballot.
Torra argued in his request sent Tuesday that because the ribbons are on so many public buildings it would take longer than the Tuesday deadline to take them off.
The electoral board, which deemed the ribbons to be an unacceptable “tool of political propaganda,” refused Torra’s request.
Spanish electoral law forbids elected officials or public institutions from using their positions to advocate for one particular party or ideological position during the campaign period. Torra argues it is an issue of free speech.
Torra — who balks at taking orders from Madrid and is keen to publicize his cause — has asked the Catalan ombudsman’s office to rule on the issue.
The government, which says Catalan independence is constitutionally impossible, has said it is up to the electoral board to decide whether to refer the case to the public prosecutor and ask police to forcibly remove the symbols.