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Civil Guards suspected of stealing pro-independence flag in Catalan village

Witness took down license plate after seeing man climb flagpole in the middle of the night

Roundabout with the missing flag in Vilobí d´Onyar.
Roundabout with the missing flag in Vilobí d´Onyar.

Catalan police are investigating the disappearance of a flag from a roundabout in the village of Vilobí d’Onyar late on Saturday night.

Members of the Civil Guard are suspected of participating in the theft of an “estelada,” an unofficial flag used by supporters of Catalan independence.

A local resident and the government of Vilobí have both filed complaints over the incident, which is being handled by a court in Santa Coloma de Farners, sources familiar with the investigation told EL PAÍS.

The same sources said that “three or four individuals” were seen inside a car that stopped at the roundabout that marks the city limit of Vilobí, in the province of Girona. At least one person got out of the car, climbed the flagpole decorating the roundabout, and yanked the “estelada” off the top. The vehicle then drove away, according to the police report.

A witness jotted down the license plate and informed local authorities. The “estelada” was one of four unofficial pro-independence flags raised by the local government in November 2012. Vilobí is run by the Catalan nationalist party Convergència, one half of the CiU bloc that governs at the regional level and has been the main driver of the referendum on self-rule that is being planned for November.

The incident would have been of little interest were it not for the fact that when investigators at the Mossos d’Esquadra — the Catalan police agency — checked the license plate number on their database, the system said it was a “reserved” number. Further inquiries yielded a surprising result: even though it looked like a civilian vehicle, the car in fact belongs to the Civil Guard, a national law enforcement agency.

We’re not just talking about a flag, but about a symbol for many people”

Mayor Olga Guillem

A Mossos d’Esquadra spokesperson declined to comment on the issue, saying it is “under court investigation.” The government delegate in Catalonia made similar statements.

But the mayor of Vilobí d’Onyar, Olga Guillem, called the Civil Guard’s alleged involvement “very serious.”

“It’s already deplorable that someone would commit such a theft, because we’re not just talking about a flag, but about a symbol for many people who are peacefully and democratically defending independence for Catalonia,” she added. “But it’s much more serious considering who stole it. I cannot understand the motives that would lead law enforcement officials, no matter which force they belong to, to attack peaceful coexistence this way.”

Guillem also said that she will demand an in-depth investigation and legal and political accountability for those responsible.