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Catalan leader steps back from declaring independence

10 October 2017 6:41 PM
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EU nations are watching developments closely amid concern that Catalan independence could put further pressure on the bloc

“In essence we’re happy but I was expecting more,” said Pere Valldeneu.

Merce Hernandez, an architect, said: “I am very emotional, this is a historic day. I’m satisfied.”

Madrid has repeatedly said it would not negotiate on Catalonia’s independence.

“We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters earlier Thursday.

A source from the central government’s representative office in Catalonia said security had been tightened at Catalan airports and railway stations in anticipation of possible protests at Puigdemont’s possible independence announcement.

At stake is the future of a region of 7.5-million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his power to prevent independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous region — an unprecedented move many fear could lead to unrest.

EU president Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.

But the Catalan president says the independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban justifies splitting from Madrid.

About 90% of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession boycotted an illegal plebiscite that was witnessed a violent police crackdown.

On Monday, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned that a unilateral declaration of independence would put “social cohesion” at risk.

Pro-unity and pro-independence supporters have staged mass rallies in Barcelona over the past week, highlighting divisions in Catalonia.

Anger over the police violence during the referendum swung some Catalans over to the independence camp.

But both Madrid and the Catalan executive have come under fire for their dogged response to the crisis and a lack of dialogue.

The crisis has also caused deep uncertainty for businesses in one of the wealthiest regions in the eurozone’s fourth largest economy.

Spain’s stock market shed nearly 1.0% ahead of Tuesday’s session and a string of companies have already moved their legal headquarters — but not their employees — from Catalonia to other parts of the country.

But a 2010 move by Spain’s Constitutional Court to water down a statute that gave Catalonia additional powers, combined with a deep economic meltdown in Spain, sparked a surge in support for independence.


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