Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Spain would not be divided on the eve of Catalonia’s expected independence declaration.
Another major business – Cellnex – is considering leaving Barcelona for Madrid amid the toxic atmosphere a week after Catalonia held a referendum that authorities there say showed voters overwhelmingly support independence.
The telecommunications company’s board will meet today to discuss a possible move as the country woke up to news of Rajoy’s comments.
Speaking in a national newspaper this morning on whether or not Spain would be divided, he said: ‘Absolutely not. Spain will not be divided and national unity will be preserved. We’ll do everything that legislation allows to ensure that.’
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy looks on during a press conference after a meeting following the Barcelona terror attack in August
A demonstrator shouts slogans as they march to protest the Catalan government’s push for secession from the rest of Spain in downtown Barcelona, Spain
People wave Spanish and Catalan flags during a march in downtown Barcelona, Spain, to protest the Catalan government’s push for secession from the rest of Spain
People on a rooftop wave Spanish flags during a march in downtown Barcelona. Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators, calling themselves a ‘silent majority’, packed central Barcelona on Sunday to protest against the plan, which has sparked the country’s worst political crisis in a generation
Catalonia, which has its own language and culture and is led by a pro-independence regional government, held the October 1 referendum over secession in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court which had declared the vote illegal.
At least six companies, including the fifth-largest lender, Banco Sabadell, have already relocated or agreed to do so.
Shortly after the government’s election call, Spain’s third-biggest bank, CaixaBank, announced it is moving out of the region.
The Prime Minister was talking in Die Welt newspaper as pressure mounted on the independence plans after hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied to defend Spanish unity.
The protests followed days of soaring tensions after police cracked down on voters during the banned referendum, prompting separatist leaders to warn they would unilaterally break away from Spain in days.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who has yet to decide whether to declare independence in defiance of Spanish authorities, is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday evening.
Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators, calling themselves a ‘silent majority’, packed central Barcelona on Sunday to protest against the plan, which has sparked the country’s worst political crisis in a generation.
Around 350,000 people attended the rally, municipal police said, while organisers put turnout at between 930,000 and 950,000.
Some protesters called for Puigdemont to go to jail for holding the independence vote while others called for dialogue.
The slogan for the demonstration – organised by the Societat Civil Catalana, the main anti-independence group in Catalonia – was: ‘Enough, let’s recover good sense.’
People carry a Spanish flag during a march in downtown Barcelona, Spain. Around 350,000 people attended the rally, municipal police said, while organisers put turnout at between 930,000 and 950,000
Tentative signs emerged last week that the two sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered an apology to Catalans injured by police during the vote.
But uncertainty still haunts the country as Catalan leaders have said they could declare independence this week.
On the eve of Sunday’s rally, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to rule out suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy – a move that risks further unrest.
But Rajoy assured Catalan leaders that there ‘is still time’ to backtrack and avoid the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.
Kofi Annan, in his role as chairman of The Elders, a group of notable public figures formed in 2007 to promote peace, said: ‘The constitutional crisis that is unfolding in Spain calls for consultation and not confrontation.
‘I urge the Spanish government and the regional government of Catalonia to renew their commitment to a resolution through dialogue,’ the former United Nations secretary-general added.
France will not recognise Catalonia if the Spanish region unilaterally declares independence, European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said on Monday.
‘If there were to be a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral, and it would not be recognised,’ Loiseau said on CNews television.
‘Catalonia cannot be defined by the vote organised by the independence movement just over a week ago,’ the French junior minister said.
‘This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics.’
A hasty decision to recognise independence following such a unilateral declaration would amount to fleeing France’s responsibilities, Loiseau added.
‘If independence were to be recognised – which is not something that’s being discussed – the most immediate consequence would be that (Catalonia) automatically left the European Union.’
The Spanish government will act if Catalan separatist leaders go ahead and declare independence on Tuesday as they have promised, Spain’s deputy prime minister has said.
Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told the COPE radio station on Monday that ‘if they declare independence, there will be decisions to restore the law and democracy’.
Ms Saenz de Santamaria also called for members of the Catalan government ‘who still respect democracy and freedom to refrain from jumping into the void’.
A Spanish police officer speaks with a demonstrator during a protest against the Catalan government’s push for secession from the rest of Spain in downtown Barcelona
Thousands of demonstrators march during a protest against Catalonia’s independence on October 8, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
Recent polls indicated that Catalans are split on independence, though regional leaders said police violence during the referendum turned many against Madrid.
Police said 700,000 people joined a pro-independence protest in Barcelona two days after the vote.
With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic hardship.
The latest crisis has raised fears of unrest in Catalonia, a northeastern region about the size of Belgium that is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.
At Sunday’s rally, demonstrators cheered and applauded when a national police helicopter flew over and some people shook the hands of national police officers to thank them for their efforts to stop the referendum.
But protesters jeered members of Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, which had largely ignored a court order to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes during the referendum.
Dozens of protesters surrounded two Mossos vans and called the officers standing on guard in front of them ‘traitors’.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont arrives for a government meeting at the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain last Monday
Nobel literature prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa warned in an address to the crowd at the end of the rally that ‘passion can be destructive and ferocious when it is fuelled by fanaticism and racism’.
‘The worst of all, the one that has caused the most ravages in history, is nationalist passion,’ he added.
The Catalan government on Friday published final results from the referendum indicating that 90 percent of voters backed the proposal to break away from Spain.
Turnout was 43 percent as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted the polls.
The vote was not held according to official electoral standards as there were no regular voter lists, electoral commission or observers.