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Catalan secessionists feel the squeeze

October 9, 2017

Wantaway Catalonians have been pressured across the board not to proceed with a declaration of independence. Government leaders have warned of repercussions for the Catalonian leadership.

Protestors gather holding Spanish flags during a demonstration against independence of Catalonia called by DENAES foundation for the Spanish Nation Defence at Colon square in Madrid
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Soriano

Catalonian independence leaders came under intense pressure from the Spanish government and unionists on Monday.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is widely expected to declare independence from Spain in an address to his regional parliament on Tuesday.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy remained adamant that Catalonia would not achieve independence.

Asked in an interview with German daily Welt if there was a risk that Spain would be divided, Rajoy said: "Absolutely not. Spain will not be divided and national unity will be preserved."

"We'll do everything that legislation allows to ensure that."

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His deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria earlier told COPE radio station that the Spanish government would be ready to act if separatists declared independence.

"If there is a unilateral declaration of independence there will be decisions made to restore law and democracy," he said.

"I'm calling on the sensible people in the Catalan government ... don't jump off the edge because you'll take the people with you."

EU response

The European Union has given Catalonia no support in its bid for independence, despite Puigdemont appealing for Brussels to mediate in the crisis.

France, which borders Catalonia, said on Monday there would be no international recognition of an independent Catalonia.

"If there were a declaration of independence it would be unilateral and it wouldn't be recognized," France's Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said on CNews digital news channel.

"This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics," she urged.

Read more: Spain's Article 155: the constitution's 'nuclear option'

The minister reiterated Brussels' warning that an independent Catalonia would "automatically" be out of the EU and have to reapply to join.

"We are allies and partners with Spain, and Spain is a major democracy, so we are not going to meddle in the internal affairs of Spain."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a phone call with Prime Minister Rajoy, stressed her backing for the Spanish unity, her spokesman said Monday.

Merkel "affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain, and both sides exchanged views on ways in which internal Spanish dialogue can be boosted within the framework of the constitution," said spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Pro-unity protests

At the weekend local police counted 350,000 protesters in Barcelona marching in favor of national unity, carrying banners that read "Catalonia is Spain" and "Together we are stronger." Organisers put turnout at between 930,000 and 950,000.

Catalan leader Puigdemont remained resolute in a TV interview on Sunday, saying the region's referendum law required a declaration of independence if the "yes" vote won the referendum.

"We will apply what the law says," he said, according to a partial transcript released by TV3.

"We have said yes to so many mediation options that have been proposed.

"The days are going by and if the Spanish state does not give a positive response, we will do what we set out to do."

Read more: 'Silent majority' Catalans hold anti-secession rallies in Barcelona

Apology from Madrid

Referendum result

Catalan authorities report that 90 percent of voters were in favor of the referendum, but opinion polls suggest it is more closely divided. Just 43 percent of eligible people voted in the referendum amid a heavy crackdown by police.

Former secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan said "consultation and not confrontation" was needed.

"I urge the Spanish government and the regional government of Catalonia to renew their commitmnt to a resolution through dialogue."

aw/rt (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)