Catalan leader not looking for ‘traumatic’ split with Spain

Carles Puigdemont insists independence vote was binding and ‘we have to apply it’

 Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, gives a press conference in Barcelona on Monday. Photograph: Alberto Estevez/EPA

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, gives a press conference in Barcelona on Monday. Photograph: Alberto Estevez/EPA

 

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont said on Monday he was not looking for a “traumatic” split from Spain but rather a “new understanding”.

He was speaking a day after hundreds of people were injured as police tried to forcibly disrupt a referendum on independence.

Sunday’s events in the autonomous region dramatically raised the temperature in a festering split between Madrid and Barcelona and made it harder for the two sides to sit down to try to find a political compromise.

Mr Puigdemont said the vote, which attracted millions of defiant voters despite being ruled illegal by the constitutional court, was valid and binding, and that “we have to apply it”.

He did, however, tell a news conference: “We don’t want a traumatic break . . . We want a new understanding with the Spanish state.”

The Catalan leader said he had had no contact with Spain’s central government and called on prime minister Mariano Rajoy to say whether he was in favour of mediation in talks over the region’s future, to be overseen by the European Union.

He added that the final result would most likely not be presented to the parliament on Monday or Tuesday.

The central government in Madrid sent thousands of Spanish police into the region to try to prevent the vote taking place.

In the event, armoured, baton-carrying riot units used heavy-handed tactics that triggered international condemnation. Regional authorities said almost 900 people had been injured.

Mr Puigdemont’s comments threw down a new challenge to Mr Rajoy, who has the constitutional power to sack the regional government and put Catalonia under central control pending fresh elections.

That would raise tensions further in the region of 7.5 million people, a former principality with its own language and culture, and potentially hurt the resurgent Spanish economy.

Mr Puigdemont called an emergency meeting of the Catalan regional government, and said Catalonia would create a commission to investigate claims of abuse by Spanish police.

In Madrid, Mr Rajoy planned to coordinate next steps in a meeting with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the opposition Socialists.