Catalan Leader Says Region Has Earned Independence, but Calls for Talks With Madrid

BARCELONA, — The leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, said on Tuesday evening that his region had earned the right to independence from Spain, but he immediately suspended the process to allow for talks with the central government in Madrid.

In a long-awaited speech to the regional parliament in Barcelona, Mr. Puigdemont said that the Catalan people had offered a “mandate” for independence, but he left open the door to negotiations and reiterated a call for mediation.

The speech appeared to constitute a tight balancing act, defying Madrid’s denunciations of the region’s independence referendum as illegal and invalid, while stopping short of offering an immediate and outright declaration of independence. Mr. Puigdemont also was trying to placate several factions within his unwieldy alliance of separatist lawmakers, who control a majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament after winning 48 percent of the votes in 2015.

The carefully worded speech, however, confused some lawmakers, and as it ended, Mr. Puigdemont did not receive any applause from the far-left secessionist lawmakers whose support has been key to keep the independence movement on course.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain has rejected any dialogue with Catalan separatists unless they abandon plans for secession, and Mr. Puigdemont and his allies could in theory be arrested for sedition, and the Catalan parliament disbanded.

“We are here because on Sunday, October 1, Catalonia held a referendum and did so in extreme conditions,” he said. “There were violent police attacks against voters who were just waiting to deposit their ballot paper. More than 800 people were treated by medical services and the world saw it.”

He added: “The Spanish state didn’t just want to confiscate ballot boxes and ballot papers. The main goal was to scare the people and force them to stay at home. But despite all these efforts, more than 2.2 million people voted because they overcame fear.”

Mr. Puigdemont said that the region had asked 18 times for permission to hold a vote on autonomy. “All we wanted was a Scottish-style referendum where both sides were able to put their views forward,” he said. “We were denied, time and time again.”



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