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5TH LEAD Catalan leader freezes independence bid to seek dialogue with Madrid By Alvise Armellini, dpa

Europe
10.10.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Madrid/Barcelona (dpa) - The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, on Tuesday announced a suspension of the region‘s independence declaration, instead calling for dialogue as part of Catalonia‘s path toward secession from Spain.

Puigdemont said the disputed October 1 referendum gave his government a mandate to turn Catalonia into "an independent state," but the process should be frozen pending further talks.

"We propose to suspend the declaration [of independence] to have a dialogue," he said, calling on the Spanish government "to listen, maybe not to us, but to the [other] people asking for a mediation."

"With the results of the October 1 referendum, Catalonia has earned the right to independence," said Puigdemont.

Attention will now turn to the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had previously ruled out any "mediation between law and disobedience."

The October 1 poll found 90 per cent of participants in favour independence. Voter turnout was 42 per cent, in large part because most of those opposed to independence did not participate.

The vote took place despite being prohibited by Spain‘s Constitutional Court and despite Madrid‘s express condemnation. Rajoy‘s government sent in police to disrupt voting on the day of the referendum, leading to hundreds of injuries and widespread public outcry.

"Do not expect any threats, blackmail or insults from me. This is a very serious situation," said Puigdemont during his roughly 30-minute speech.

The Catalan president stated that his push for dialogue was a "gesture of responsibility and generosity," taken to respect the overwhelming will of actors in Spain and abroad for a de-escalation of the conflict, while "respecting the will of the people."

Throughout his address, Puigdemont pointed to various past attempts by successive Catalan regional governments to hold legally binding referendums, such as the one held in Scotland in 2014. These attempts had been met with constant opposition and counter-attacks, said Puigdemont.

Addressing all citizens of Spain, Puigdemont said, "We are not criminals, we are not crazy, we are not coup plotters, we are not out of our minds. We are normal people who only ask to vote."

Tuesday had been marked by increasing tensions as Puigdemont‘s statement approached. The Parc de la Ciutadella, the park that surrounds the regional parliament, was surrounded by members of Catalonia‘s regional police force.

Large crowds gathered outside the parliament and watched the proceedings on large public screens.

A unilateral declaration of independence, as many had speculated Puigdemont would provide, could have led to his arrest and an unprecedented political crisis in Spain.

Rajoy is due to address the national parliament on Wednesday.

 

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