Catalan leaders under pressure over independence threat to break away from Spain

Protesters congratulate Spanish policemen and decorate police vans with Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration called by

Spanish law bans such representations if they are used to incite acts of violence.

MADRID, Spain - If Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont declares the region independent as promised, possibly by Tuesday, Spain will face its greatest political upheaval since its return to democracy in the 1970s.

Catalan leaders say 90 percent of those who went to the polls voted to break with Spain.

Merkel "affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain, and both sides exchanged views on ways in which internal Spanish dialogue can be boosted within the framework of the constitution", said the chancellor's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

On Sunday, Barcelona police estimated as many as 350,000 people participated in a rally organised in the Spanish city.

"We're a little spot on the map and often we're not taken into account", said Maria Verges Perez, the deputy mayor of Aran's capital, Vielha, a cluster of stone-and-slate houses on the valley floor ringed by autumnal forests.

"We are peaceful citizens who believe in coexistence and freedom".

The French minister also noted that the recognition of Catalonia's independence would automatically mean its automatic exit from the European Union.

A week on from a referendum on independence which the government did its utmost to thwart, more signs were emerging that the fraught situation was also taking its toll on the business climate of Spain's wealthiest region.

- Urges the Catalan President to return to the dialogue table.

"I want to say one thing with complete clarity: while the threat of a declaration of independence does not disappear from the political panorama it is going to be very hard for the government not to make decisions", he warned.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned anew today that Spain will not be divided by a declaration of independence from Catalonia and said the government is ready to respond to any such attempt.

"Credibility and dignity suggest making the declaration of independence tomorrow", said Jordi Sanchez, the head of the civil group National Catalonia Assembly said today. Monday meeting was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court to pre-empt a hypothetical push for independence.

While a declaration of independence is not certain, the separatist coalition government in Catalonia is fiercely debating the next steps towards independence after winning the region's controversial vote for secession.

Whatever happens this week, it's clear that there are deep divisions over the issue, not only between Madrid and Barcelona, but within Catalonia as well. Since last week, the region's two largest banks and some of its biggest companies have relocated to elsewhere in Spain.



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