Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Spanish, Catalan leaders negotiate

Published:Saturday | October 7, 2017 | 11:17 PM
A pro independence supporter holds an "estelada", or Catalan pro independence flag, next to mock ballots boxes.

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Thousands rallied in Madrid and Barcelona yesterday 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 organiser's' 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.

Protesters 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. Some people chanted "Less hate, and more understanding!"

In a separate rally in Madrid's Colon Square, thousands clamoured for the unity of Spain and against any attempt by the north eastern region to break away. The crowd bristled with Spanish flags.

Pro-union forces will try to generate momentum today 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 per cent backing independence-- the referendum polled less than half of the region's electorate.