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EU Parliament opens amid protests, discord

Strasbourg, Tuesday

The European Parliament has re-opened in Strasbourg, France with an anti-EU protest by the UK’s Brexit Party and a demonstration by Catalan nationalists whose MEPs are barred.

The first session after Europe-wide elections in May began as EU leaders went into a third day of talks on who should fill the bloc’s top jobs. Several leaders said they were optimistic of a breakthrough. Italy and eastern states rejected an earlier compromise deal.

Catalan protestors

Outside parliament, hundreds of Catalan protesters protested that three separatist figures were unable to take their seats, as inside the chamber fellow MEPs placed three photos of the missing members on their desks.

Ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and colleague Toni Comin were barred from taking their seats because they fled to Brussels after a banned referendum on independence went ahead and did not attend a swearing-in ceremony in Madrid as required. Another separatist leader, Oriol Junqueras is on trial in Spain and in detention.

Irish Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy warned that the parliament’s credibility would be undermined if it did not stand up for the voters of Catalonia.

As outgoing speaker Antonio Tajani convened the new session, MEPs rose for EU’s anthem. But not everyone stood, and anti-EU MEPs from the UK’s Brexit Party turned their backs on the rendition accompanied by a saxophone quartet.

“Rising to your feet is a matter of respect,” said Tajani. “It does not mean that you necessarily share the views of the European Union. Even when you listen to the anthem of another country you rise to your feet.”

Their action came after party leader Nigel Farage promised a spirit of “cheerful defiance”. Pro-EU Liberal Democrats staged their own stunt, wearing “Stop Brexit” T-shirts.   – BBC

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