Thou­sands in Spain plea for ne­go­ti­a­tions

The gath­er­ing around Madrid’s Ci­beles foun­tain boasted a huge ban­ner de­mand­ing that lead­ers start talk­ing. Some peo­ple chanted “Less hate, and more un­der­stand­ing!”

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD -

BARCELONA, Spain— Thou­sands ral­lied in Madrid and Barcelona on Satur­day in a last- ditch call for Span­ish and Cata­lan lead­ers to stave off a na­tional cri­sis amid Cat­alo­nia’s threat to se­cede.

The ral­lies in the Span­ish cap­i­tal and the Cata­lan city were held with the slo­gan “Shall We Talk?” in an ef­fort to push law­mak­ers in both cities to end months of si­lence and start ne­go­ti­at­ing. At­ten­dees re­spected the or­ga­niz­ers’ call to not bring the Span­ish or Cata­lan flag.

Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, has vowed to make good on the re­sults of last Sun­day’s dis­puted ref­er­en­dum on se­ces­sion won by the Yes side. Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy warned that the vote was il­le­gal and has promised that Cat­alo­nia is go­ing nowhere.

Protestors packed Barcelona’s Sant Jaume Square where the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment has its pres­i­den­tial palace, shout­ing “We want to talk!” and hold­ing signs say­ing “More Ne­go­ti­a­tion, Less Testos­terone!” and “Talk or Re­sign!”

“We have to find a new way for­ward,” said Miquel Ic­eta, the leader of Spain’s So­cial­ist party in Cat­alo­nia. “It’s the mo­ment to lis­ten to the peo­ple who are ask­ing for the prob­lem to be solved through an agree­ment, and with­out pre­cip­i­tated and uni­lat­eral de­ci­sions.”

The gath­er­ing around Madrid’s Ci­beles foun­tain boasted a huge ban­ner de­mand­ing that lead­ers start talk­ing.

In a sep­a­rate rally in Madrid’s Colon Square, thou­sands clam­ored for the unity of Spain and against any at­tempt by the north­east­ern re­gion to break away. The crowd bris­tled with Span­ish flags. Pro- union forces will try to gen­er­ate mo­men­tum on Sun­day in a protest in Barcelona.

Other protests ask­ing for di­a­logue were held in cities in­clud­ing Va­len­cia, Bil­bao, Pam­plona and San­itago de Com­postela, news agency Europa Press re­ported.

The calls for di­a­logue and unity come af­ter a trau­matic week, with riot po­lice storm­ing sev­eral polling sta­tions in an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to im­pede the ref­er­en­dum. In­stead, hun­dreds of vot­ers were left in need of med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Even though 2.2 mil­lion Cata­lan voted — with 90 per­cent back­ing in­de­pen­dence— the ref­er­en­dum polled less than half of the re­gion’s elec­torate. Puigde­mont de­clared he would seek a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in the re­gional par­lia­ment any­way.

The blood­ied vote was fol­lowed by a strike on Tues­day across Cat­alo­nia to protest the po­lice vi­o­lence. Then came the stern mes­sage from Spain’s King Felipe VI that the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment were break­ing the law.

Puigde­mont and his sep­a­ratist sup­port­ers were struck a blow when Cat­alo­nia’s top two banks, Caix­a­Bank and Banco Sabadell, as well as en­ergy gi­ant Gas Nat­u­ral an­nounced they were re­lo­cat­ing their head­quar­ters from Cat­alo­nia to other parts of Spain.

Other com­pa­nies are con­sid­er­ing such a move to en­sure that the re­gion’s pos­si­ble se­ces­sion wouldn’t knock them out of the Euro­pean Union and its lu­cra­tive com­mon mar­ket.

Spain’s min­is­ter of pub­lic works, Inigo de la Serna, said on Satur­day that “the com­pa­nies will keep leav­ing and it’s ex­clu­sively the fault of the mem­bers of the re­gional gov­ern­ment.”

The warn­ings by the busi­ness sec­tor have co­in­cided with the first calls from within Puigde­mont’s gov­ern­ment to hold off on a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

Santi Vila, Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional chief for busi­ness, told Cadena SER Ra­dio late Fri­day that he’s push­ing for “a new op­por­tu­nity for di­a­logue” with Span­ish author­i­ties.

Sep­a­ratist law­mak­ers had planned to dis­cuss a se­ces­sion plan on Mon­day, but that ses­sion in the re­gional par­lia­ment was sus­pended by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. The fo­cus has shifted to Tues­day, when Puigde­mont is set to ad­dress the re­gional par­lia­ment “to re­port on the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.”

The most re­cent polls taken be­fore the ref­er­en­dum showed that the re­gion’s 7.5 mil­lion res­i­dents were roughly split on the is­sue.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Peo­ple gath­ered in Barcelona, Spain, on Satur­day in fa­vor of talks over Cat­alo­nia’s se­ces­sion push.

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