Catalan leader calls on Madrid to agree to independence referendum

Catalan leader Quim Torra relaunched a campaign to split his region from Spain on Tuesday, calling on the central government in Madrid to agree to a referendum on independence and rebuffing a vote that could only offer greater autonomy, Reuters has reported.

Torra set out his separatist roadmap at a lecture entitled “Our Moment” on Tuesday evening, almost five months after he was elected as regional head to replace Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels last year after Madrid removed him from office. 

Spain’s new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has taken a softer line towards Catalonia since taking over from Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, in June, but ruled out a vote on independence after a banned and chaotic referendum last Oct. 1. 

A majority voted for independence in that ballot but turnout was low, as opponents did not show up for the vote that Spain said was illegal. Puigdemont declared independence, prompting Madrid to take over direct rule. 

Torra insisted he wanted another vote, but said this time it must be approved by the state. 

“The Oct. 1 mandate is in force and we are working to bring it into effect,” he said, but added that “only an agreed, binding and internationally recognised referendum on self-determination can renew that mandate”. 

Secessionist ambitions in Catalonia, which accounts for around a fifth of the country’s economy and is home to Spain’s second-biggest city Barcelona, are one of the thorniest issues facing Sanchez. 

“We will always listen to everyone, but we will never renounce our right to self-determination,” Torra said. He added, “We have not taken one single step back.” 

After Torra’s speech, government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said the government was open to talks, but said the regional leader was not speaking to the entire Catalan electorate.

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