Spanish PM opens talks with Catalonian leaders on separatist movement
But Pedro Sanchez insisted he will not authorise an independence vote for the region.
Spain’s prime minister and the leader of Catalonia have opened formal talks in the hope of resolving the festering political crisis provoked by the region’s separatist movement.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and members of his government are hosting Catalan regional chief Quim Torra and his delegation in Madrid’s Moncloa Palace, the seat of Spain’s Government, on Wednesday.
Mr Sanchez greeted Mr Torra in the gardens outside the palace, and the two leaders appeared to chat amiably.
No major breakthrough is expected from the meeting given the political abyss separating the two sides.
Mr Sanchez said beforehand: “Today we will initiate our talks, and the way forward is going to be difficult, complex and long.”
Mr Torra has insisted he will repeat his demands for Catalonia to be allowed to hold a referendum on independence and for the release of nine separatist leaders who are serving prison sentences for their role in an illegal 2017 secession attempt.
Mr Sanchez has promised his government will not consider an independence vote for the region. He has said he will instead focus on improving relations between Spain and the restive region, while also decreasing tensions in Catalonia caused by the divisive issue.
Polls and the most recent election results indicate roughly 50% of the 7.5 million residents of north-eastern Catalonia are in favour of secession.
The meeting comes at a delicate moment for both governments.
In January, Mr Sanchez agreed to open the talks in order to win the votes of some of Catalonia’s separatist politicians in the national parliament necessary to form a coalition government with the left-wing We Can party.
Mr Sanchez will now need to maintain that same backing to get a national budget passed.
This trade-off has earned the Socialist leader criticism from Spain’s right-of-centre parties, which Mr Sanchez accuses of doing nothing to help defuse the conflict.
Mr Torra, meanwhile, has said he will soon call snap elections as frictions between his party and another separatist party currently in power in Catalonia have reached breaking point.
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