Catalan crisis: President Carles Puigdemont calls for independence talks with Spain

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Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the regional parliament on Tuesday that Catalonia had won the right to declare its independence from Spain, but would first seek talks with Madrid.

Puigdemont’s main points in the speech:

– Catalan independence had won in a parliamentary election and had now won a referendum. The region had now won the right to become an independent state.

– The standoff between Barcelona and Madrid was now a European issue. The relationship between the two government no longer works and both sides had a responsibility to de-escalate the situation.

– The Catalan government was not making any threats or insults and believes that the only way forward is democracy and peace. Catalonia was always willing to talk.

– The independence referendum took place on October 1 under very difficult circumstances. Spanish police did not want to just take ballot boxes, but strike fear into voters. 770,000 votes could not be counted because of the crackdown.

– Madrid’s aggressive behavior was an attempt to re-centralize power in Spain.

– Catalan citizens were neither mad nor criminals and had nothing against Spain.

Carles Puigdemont gives a speech at the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona

Carles Puigdemont wants a negotiated independence from Spain

How the day unfolded

Puigdemont met with his cabinet earlier on Tuesday to discuss next steps in a tense standoff with the central Spanish government in Madrid, which has opposed the regional government’s drive toward secession.

Spanish government spokesman, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, warned Puigedemont against declaring 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,” he said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk also cautioned against such a move, saying a declaration of independence would make “dialogue impossible” between Barcelona and Madrid.

Puigdemont was scheduled to address the regional parliament at 6 p.m. (1600 UTC), but his speech was delayed by an hour.

Read more: Catalan independence – what you need to know

A disputed referendum

National leaders in Madrid and regional leaders in Barcelona have been locked in a standoff since Catalonia held an independence referendum on October 1.

The poll, which Spanish courts and Madrid had declared illegal, ended with 90 percent of voters opting for secession. While turnout was only 43 percent, Puigdemont said afterwards that “the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form of a republic.”

Images of Spanish police seizing ballots and roughing up voters in Barcelona led to 700,000 people to join a general strike in Catalonia last Tuesday to protest police violence.

Armed Catalan police guard the Catalan parliament ahead of Puigdemont's speech

Armed Catalan police guard the Catalan parliament ahead of Puigdemont’s speech

Spain’s opposition

Spain’s interior minister later apologized for Madrid’s actions, but Spanish authorities remained steadfast in denying the legitimacy of the referendum.

Spanish King Felipe has said Catalan authorities had been “irresponsible” in holding the vote and that he was committed to Spain’s “unity and permanence.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday he would not rule out suspending Catalonia’s autonomous status if it claimed independence. The central government could take the unprecedented move to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution to take over the running of an autonomous region.

Catalonia isolated and under pressure

Puigdemont had repeatedly called on the EU to mediate talks between Barcelona and Madrid following the referendum, a demand Spanish authorities and the EU have refused to accept.

Businesses have also pressured Catalan leaders to defuse tensions with many declaring they will relocate to other parts of Spain. The Madrid stock market has also struggled as international investors have dumped Spanish shares.

Read more: Catalonia independence: Secessionists start to feel the squeeze

amp/rt  (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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