World Spain PM in Barcelona to reopen Catalan separatist talks
Dialogue with Spain deepens division between Catalan parties
MADRID (AP) — The leader of Catalonia in northeastern Spain has announced that he is excluding a separatist party in his ruling regional coalition from talks with the central government aimed at solving the tensions over the growing pro-independence sentiment in the region. Catalan President Pere Aragonès also said he will urge Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sànchez to accept a referendum on the region's independence when they meet Wednesday in Barcelona, the Catalan capital.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visits Barcelona Wednesday to resume dialogue with Catalonia's separatist leadership on resolving the political crisis triggered by the region's 2017 failed independence bid.
"I will lead this negotiation on behalf of the Spanish government," Sanchez said late Monday, confirming he would meet Catalan leader Pere Aragones on September 15 for talks on the region's political situation.
Thousands of Catalans rally for independence in Barcelona
Thousands of Catalans rally for independence in BarcelonaThe march, organised by the grassroots Assemblea Nacional Catalana [ANC], was the first since Spain's government pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been jailed for their role in a 2017 botched bid for independence, which was Spain's biggest political crisis in decades.
Since the crisis of October 2017, Catalonia has been a dominant theme in Spanish politics and one which Sanchez's government has vowed to tackle through negotiations.
"The situation in Catalonia is very different, much more stable than in 2017 or in 2019," the prime minister said of the huge violent protests that followed Spain's jailing of nine separatist leaders exactly two years after the failed breakaway bid.
In January 2020, Sanchez agreed to open talks after ERC -- Catalonia's oldest and largest separatist party -- offered crucial parliamentary support that got his minority government approved.
Initial talks began at the end of February 2020 but were soon suspended as the pandemic took hold.
Expectations of success this time are low, with both sides coming to the table with radically different expectations.
Catalan separatists to test unity ahead of Madrid talks
Catalonia's deeply divided separatist movement will put its mobilisation skills to the test Saturday as the northeastern region celebrates its national day ahead of fresh talks with Spain's government. Those behind the move were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain's top court, while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the movement deeply disappointed and sharply at odds over how to proceed. "Since 2017, morale has hit a real low, but the fact that there were political prisoners (in jail) gave them something to keep fighting for," Berta Barbet, a political scientist from Barcelona's Autonomous University, told AFP.
The separatists have two key demands -- an amnesty for all those involved in the failed independence bid and a new referendum on self-determination, this time with Madrid's approval.
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The Spanish government is implacably opposed to both.
"If we go with a list of maximalist demands, the conversation won't last very long," Sanchez said on Monday, while admitting he was open to a possible vote on Catalonia's place within Spain, but within limits.
"Within the constitution, a democrat has no problem calling for a vote, but it will have to be by agreement, not by going it alone."
- More flexible leadership? -
Many things have changed since October 2017 when the Catalan regional government staged a referendum banned by Madrid and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain's worst political crisis in decades.
Catalan separatists to take streets ahead of Madrid talks
Catalan separatists are expected to jam the streets of Barcelona on Saturday in a test of their strength ahead of fresh negotiations with Spain's government. The protest coincides with Catalonia's national day, or "Diada", which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region's subsequent loss of institutions. As in other years, the march will get underway at 17:14 (1514 GMT) -- a nod to the year 1714. The slogan this year is: "We will fight for independence and win".At its peak in 2014, the annual demonstration brought an estimated 1.8 million people onto the streets.
Those behind the move were arrested, tried and jailed while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatist movement decapitated and deeply at odds over how to move forward.
And the issue of dialogue with Madrid has been a huge point of friction in this region of 7.8 million people who remain divided over the question of independence.
Since the last round of talks, there has been a shake-up within Catalonia's separatist-dominated leadership, with the moderate leftist ERC taking over the regional coalition and its hardline counterpart JxC taking a junior role.
This had an immediate effect.
Within weeks, the Spanish government had pardoned the jailed separatist leaders and agreed to resume top-level talks on resolving the Catalan crisis.
ERC favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC, which wants to keep up a confrontational approach, maintains that dialogue is "not our strategy".
Barcelona president Joan Laporta reveals club is €1.35 billion in debt .
Laporta blamed former president Josep Maria Bartomeu for the situation before he stepped down from his role with the club last year. "Barcelona has a negative net worth of €451 million – it is a terrible inheritance. What has been happening is very worrying," Laporta said. "Bartomeu's (open) letter is an effort to justify management that is unjustifiable. It is an exercise in desperation. They are responsible for everything until March 7. They will not escape their doing.