4 Oct 2017

Catalonia independence 'in matter of days'

5:58 pm on 4 October 2017

Catalonia will declare independence from Spain in a matter of days, the leader of the region has told the BBC.

Thousands hold a Spanish flag made of cloth during a union strike held in Barcelona to denounce police violence during the Catalonia independence referendum.

Thousands hold a Spanish flag made of cloth during a union strike held in Barcelona to denounce police violence during the Catalonia independence referendum. Photo: AFP

In his first interview since Sunday's referendum, Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont said his government would "act at the end of this week or the beginning of next".

When asked what he would do if the Spanish government were to intervene and take control of Catalonia's government, Mr Puigdemont said it would be "an error which changes everything".

Mr Puigdemont said there was currently no contact between the government in Madrid and his devolved administration.

President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont holds a press conference after a meeting with the members of the Catalan government

President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont holds a press conference after a meeting with the members of the Catalan government Photo: AFP / 2017 Anadolu Agency

He disagreed with the European Commission's statement on Monday that events in Catalonia were an internal issue for Spain. He was speaking shortly before the king's speech.

In his televised address to the nation, Spain's King Felipe VI said organisers of the vote put themselves "outside the law".

He said the situation in Spain was "extremely serious", calling for unity and said the Catalan leaders who organised the referendum showed their "disrespect to the powers of the state".

Spain's King Felipe VI addresses the nation in Madrid, as the country grapples with the independence drive in Catalonia.

Spain's King Felipe VI addresses the nation in Madrid, as the country grapples with the independence drive in Catalonia. Photo: AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT CASA REAL / FRANCISCO GOMEZ

"They have broken the democratic principles of the rule of law.

"Today, the Catalan society is fractured," the king said, warning that the poll could put at risk the economy of the wealthy north-eastern region and the whole of Spain.

But he stressed that Spain "will overcome difficult times".

Hundreds of thousands of people across Catalonia have been protesting over Spanish police violence during the vote, during which nearly 900 people were hurt.

During the vote, 33 police officers were also injured, local medical officials said.

The central government has described the referendum as illegal. Huge protest rallies have been taking place across Catalonia.

In Barcelona alone, 700,000 people took to the streets, city police were quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. This has not been confirmed by the authorities in Madrid.

More than 50 roadblocks in the city caused big traffic jams. Barcelona's metro traffic was cut to a 25 percent service during rush hour and no trains at all at other times.

People have begun to vote on the referendum of Catalonia when state and riot police intervened brutally to end the vote and take away the urns from the voters. Barcelona. Spain.

Voters and police in Catalonia. Photo: AFP

Barcelona's port was at a standstill, trade union sources said.

Top tourist attractions were also closed, including the city's famous Sagrada Familia church.

Mercabarna - Barcelona's massive wholesale market - was left deserted as some 770 food businesses closed for the day.

However, the city's El Prat airport and its taxis were operating normally.

Many small businesses have shut for the day. Schools, universities and medical services were also closed or operating at a minimum level.

The strike was called in protest at "the grave violation of rights and freedoms" seen during the ballot.

Some police officers were seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said the vote made a "mockery" of democracy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said: "We see how day after day the government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets."

He also warned that the central government would take "all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment".

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría condemned the "mafia" behaviour of those protesters who had earlier gathered around hotels housing Spanish police officers and demanded that they leave.

On Sunday, more than 2.2 million people reportedly voted in the referendum. The Catalan government said nearly 90 percent voted in support of independence, but official results have not yet been released.

Turnout was relatively low at a reported 42 percent, potentially weakening the position of Mr Puigdemont.

Meanwhile, political leaders were trying to find a way forward.

Mr Puigdemont earlier said he wanted a new understanding with the government in Madrid, but the Spanish government has warned it could suspend autonomy of the region.

Mr Rajoy held talks with Pedro Sánchez, leader of Spain's main opposition Socialist party, as well as Albert Rivera, the head of the centrist Ciudadanos party, late on Monday.

While the Socialist leader urged Mr Rajoy to hold talks with the Catalan president immediately, Mr Rivera said Spain should invoke article 155 of the constitution, in effect suspending Catalonia's autonomous powers.

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