Spain braces for mass protests in Catalonia crisis

  08 October 2017    Read: 694
Spain braces for mass protests in Catalonia crisis

Spain braced for mass street protests Saturday as anger swelled against Catalan leaders' vows to declare their region independent and the national government's handling of the volatile political crisis.

Tentative signs have emerged that the sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered a first apology Friday to Catalans injured by police in a crackdown on their outlawed independence vote on October 1.

But uncertainty still haunted the country as Catalan leaders have not backed off from plans to make a unilateral declaration of independence within days, based on the result of the banned referendum vote.

"There has to be a commitment to dialogue," said Jordi Cuixart, president of one of the grassroots groups driving Catalonia's separatist movement, on Catalan radio on Saturday.

"We will never refuse that. But we... will continue to demand a commitment that the referendum law be fulfilled."

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block independence as well as any referendum.

And he has rejected calls for mediation in a dispute that has drawn cries of concern all over Spain, and even from Barcelona and Real Madrid footballers.

- 'Let's talk' -

Spain's deepest political crisis in decades has raised fears of further unrest in the northeastern region, a tourist-friendly area of 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy.

Opponents of secession called for demonstrations around Spain on Saturday and a major rally in Barcelona on Sunday.

A movement called "Let's Talk" urged citizens to gather dressed in white in front of town halls across the country, demanding dialogue to end the crisis under the slogan: "Spain is better than its leaders".

"It's time to come together to tell them that they are incapable and irresponsible," the group's manifesto reads. The gatherings will start from around midday (1000 GMT).

A separate "patriotic" march was called for the same time in central Madrid, organised by activists defending the unity of Spain.

- Back from the brink? -

Friday saw the first signs the sides may be willing to step back from the brink in a political conflict that risks destabilising Europe.

After days of ill-tempered rhetoric, the central government said it regretted the injuries and suggested Catalonia should hold a regional election to settle the crisis.

Catalan government minister Santi Vila, a close of ally of regional president Carles Puigdemont, meanwhile told broadcaster Rac1 that his side could consider a "ceasefire" in the dispute, to avoid a further crackdown by Madrid.

Businesses and the government have kept up economic pressure on Catalonia however, with several big companies announcing moves to shift their headquarters to other parts of Spain.

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