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Catalan Protests Against Madrid's Plan to Deny Its Independence; Shinzo Abe Poised to Win Snap General Elections; Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2017 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:10] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hundreds of thousands of protesters fill the streets in Barcelona after Spain's government squashed Catalonia's call for independence.

Voters head to polling stations in Japan. All while Typhoon Lan barrels towards Tokyo.

These stories are all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

Our top story, Spain's political crisis is reaching a decisive point with the future of Catalonia on the line. Almost half a million people protested in Barcelona Saturday, furious with the central government for trying to crush Catalonia's independent movement.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants Madrid to control the semi- autonomous region until new elections.


MARIANO RAJOY, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The government has been forced to invoke Article 155 of the Constitution. This was not my wish or intention. Never. We're invoking Article 155 because no government in a democratic country can accept that law is broken, if it is changed and everything is done trying to impose your criteria on others.


ALLEN: Catalonia's president has not officially declared the region fully independent but he says Catalonia has won the right to break away after a referendum which Madrid calls unconstitutional. Last time Catalonia's powers were taken away, Spain was under a brutal dictatorship.


CARLES PUIGDEMONT, CATALAN PRESIDENT (through translator): What the Catalans decided in elections, the Spanish government has cancelled. So the Spanish government with the socialist (INAUDIBLE) has started the worst attack on the institutions and people of Catalonia since Franco's decree.


ALLEN: CNN's Erin McLaughlin was in the middle of the protests. Here's her report from Barcelona.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of people gathered here in Barcelona to call for the freedom of two Catalan leaders jailed in the buildup to the referendum on allegations of sedition.

Many of the people here voted in that referendum. Many of them outraged by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's move to control over Catalonia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to resist in our (INAUDIBLE) way but we are going to resist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are scared and like nervous all the time and -- I don't know.

MCLAUGHLIN: So you're scared, you're nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Of course. Of course. I mean, no, nothing -- when you see like helicopters, like I've been here from 11:00, are they going to shoot or what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we need to express all these in the streets and we're going to be here upstairs and streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The thing is we tried so many times to talk with them but they don't want to talk.

MCLAUGHLIN: Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was here. He's said (INAUDIBLE) the worst attack by the Spanish Senate. His future -- the future of all of Catalonia now even more uncertain.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Barcelona.


ALLEN: We want to talk about this development with our European affairs commentator, Dominic Thomas, joining us from Los Angeles. He's also the chair of the Department of Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA.

Dominic, thanks for talking with us. You just heard from the people on the street, they're nervous. They're scared. They don't know what's going to happen next. This move was expected by the Spanish prime minister but is it warranted?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Well, it's absolutely a remarkable situation because not only did he trigger and (INAUDIBLE) now Article 155 but he also went about the process of enlisting cross-party support for this so that when he takes it to the Senate he's almost guaranteed that they will all support him.

The king of Spain in what is a constitutional monarchy spoke out for the second time saying that -- and there was absolutely no way that Catalonia would break away and Rajoy has the support of the European Union. So in many ways this is a dream scenario for the separatists and for Carles Puigdemont because it now allows them to clearly and unambiguously restate their position is that the Madrid government overreaches in the region of Catalonia. And this is proving extraordinary divisiveness that increasingly galvanizing people to support Puigdemont's position.

ALLEN: Right. The speaker of the Catalan parliaments claims Mr. Rajoy intends to put an end to a democratically elected government and calls it a de facto coup d'etat. Is it?

[02:05:08] THOMAS: Well, I mean effectively it is because the folks -- the people in Catalonia elected the current parliament that they have there. An elected president. So for Madrid to come in and say that they must absolutely have new elections is extraordinarily un- democratic because ultimately what they're saying is that they believe that the people of Catalonia will return the kind of vote that Madrid wants.

In other words a vote against independence and so this is meddling in the democratic processes of one of the 17 and land states federation that made up Spain. So one can see where Puigdemont's position comes from in this particular context.

ALLEN: What happens next? With these many people out on the streets and so much divisiveness here. Are there any other options or is this the only solution as far as the Spanish government has to work it at this point?

THOMAS: Yes. And the Spanish government needs to engage in a broader discussion. Yes, folks keep saying that this has been in place since 1978 but it's clearly not working because people want to be able, as they did in Scotland, as they've done in other parts of Europe, to be able to go to the polls and express themselves and the fact that the constitution said it was illegal is probably not enough in this particular case.

And it may be that, you know, rather than, you know, being the opposition at the beginning sort of realized that many of the folks living in that particular region was supporting independence. They would have been willing to back down had they've been able to engage in meaningful discussion about some of the serious grievances that people have living in that particular area. But it's now ended up in a particular -- in a position where you have the standoff between these two parties.

And it seems that it's going to be impossible for anyone to really sort of break the dam here and get them down to the table and discuss things and he is not helping in this way. He is being rather hypocritical in that.

ALLEN: Dominic Thomas, we appreciate your analysis. It's certainly a story we'll continue to follow closely. Thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you, Natalie.

ALLEN: The Syrian city of Raqqa is liberated from ISIS and U.S. President Donald Trump says the U.S. will soon begin a new phase in the country. He says Saturday he wants to pursue peace and support local security forces. He added, "We have made alongside our coalition partners more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years."

Earlier in the week Mr. Trump also appeared to take credit for the Raqqa operation. He told a radio host ISIS wasn't on the run before he was president.

His comments as many Raqqa residents seek to rebuild much of the city is in ruins after more than three years of brutal ISIS rule.

Japanese voters are casting their ballots in a snap general election but an approaching typhoon could affect voter turnout. We'll have more on that in a moment. But still the outcome is expected to be enough for Shinzo Abe -- Shinzo Abe to secure his position as the country's longest serving post-war prime minister.

Mister Abe called for the vote in September. He hopes to get a strong mandate to keep taking a tough stance on North Korea, which sent ballistic missiles flying over Japan in recent months.


SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Now together with the international community we have to put the highest possible pressure on North Korea. We will create a society where everyone can have a dream. A society where people young and old can feel safe.


ALLEN: Let's get straight to Tokyo for the latest. Journalist Kaori Enjoji joins me now.

This is an important vote for Shinzo Abe. Now what specifically is he looking for?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Well, Natalie, initially this seemed like a gamble for the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he called this snap election last month but local media polls were suggesting that he could actually win big today. And the biggest reason voter interest this time in this election here in Japan has been so strong is because of the threat from North Korea.

There have been missiles flying over Japan. These launches from North Korea month after month this year. And I think 2017 has been a game- changer in terms of security policy for Japan and the Japanese prime minister wants to put forth an image that he is the safest pair of hands to deal with this immediate threat.

As you pointed out, if he wins a clear super majority tonight, which means 310 seats out of the 465 seats that are being contested, it means it's more than likely that he's going to become the longest serving prime minister that Japan has ever seen in the post-war period. But I think more importantly it gives his party, the coalition government, an opportunity to present the possibility of constitutional change, which means basically giving the Japanese military a stronger and more important role.

[02:10:03] And I think this would really be a big change for Japan. And the prime minister has said that he wants to make this his signature policy. And I think with the threat from North Korea looming he has tried to position himself as the person that is the safest pair of hands on deck to deal with this threat.

I also think that if he wins big tonight here in Japan it could be a big reassurance for the U.S. particularly ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Japan and the Asian region in two week's time, in early November.

I mean, I think the prime minister here has made it clear that he has befriended the prime minister but the U.S.-Japan alliance would not be tested in a way that a threat from North Korea would test that alliance -- Natalie.

ALLEN: We'll certainly get back to you on the outcome.

Kaori Enjoji, thank you.

Well, as we mentioned, as people head out to vote, there is a typhoon.


ALLEN: Barreling in. So that's interesting. Derek Van Dam is here with more about it.

VAN DAM: And the other rain bands were already impacting parts of Japan already. I found an interesting stat or a bit of information. Back in 1979 they also had a lower house election in the month of October, a typhoon came through, dropped 100 millimeters on Tokyo, and that dropped the voter turnout 10 points lower than two previous general elections.

Will Typhoon Lan do the same thing? Well, time will tell, Natalie. And we'll just have to do the counting, of course, after the typhoon finally makes landfall which, of course, by the way, is expected overnight tonight and into the day on Monday, local time.


ALLEN: All right. Derek, thank you.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.