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Spain: Talks between Madrid, Catalan separatists break down

The Spanish government has broken off talks with Catalan secessionists, with both sides accusing the other of intransigence. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had already faced criticism for agreeing to hold the talks.

Talks between the Spanish government and Catalan separatist parties ground to a halt before they even began on Friday, with both sides accusing the other of stubbornness.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the pro-independence groups had refused to accept a framework for talks proposed by Madrid because they wanted an independence referendum included on the agenda.

"This proposal was an attempt to set the dialogue in an ordered, rigorous way, and with conviction," Calvo told reporters. "For years they have been asking for dialogue. We have done it. If that is not enough, we need to stop."

But in an impromptu press conference, Catalonia's separatist regional government claimed that it was Madrid that had broken off the talks.

'We've not left the table'

Catalan Vice President Pere Aragones, of the pro-independence ERC party, claimed Sanchez had caved in to "Spanish nationalism, the right, and the far-right" by refusing to even discuss the issue of independence.

"We have not left the table, and we will not be doing that," said Aragones. "It is the [national] government that has broken and abandoned the space for dialogue. We didn't do it."

Read more: How dangerous is Spain's far-right Vox party?

The issue of independence for some of Spain's constituent "nations" is a sensitive one, with many centralists determined that Madrid should not make any concessions to separatists. Feelings have been running particularly high since a 2017 attempt by Catalan political leaders to secede from Spain.

Rocky road ahead

The failure of the talks comes at a tricky time for Sanchez, who looks likely to see his 2019 budget plan defeated in parliament without the support of Catalan parties. The trial of 12 Catalan separatists who took part in the 2017 secession attempt — set to begin on Tuesday — is also likely to heighten sensitivities.

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Ahead of the talks, Sanchez had already faced criticism from politicians in Madrid, including some members of his own Socialist party (PSOE).

Read more: In Catalonia's Val d'Aran, nobody wants independence

The reactions from the center-right opposition Popular Party (PP) were particularly scathing, with leader Pablo Casado labeling Sanchez a "traitor.” He told the EFE news agency that the prime minister had "crossed all red lines; the legislature is totally over and the government is illegitimate."

Members of the PP and new-era conservative Ciudadanos (Citizens) party accuse Sanchez of giving in to blackmail so as to secure support for a budget vote. The parties, along with the far-right party Vox, are set to rally on Sunday to demand new elections.

rc/sms (EFE, AFP, AP)

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