Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday called for a temporary suspension of Cataloniaâ€™s independence referendum result, even while making clear his belief in that the region is on the street to secession from Spain.
The stance appeared to open a window â€” at least a theoretical one â€” to mediation, though it may not satisfy either the Spanish central government, which has called the independence bid illegal, or hard-line secessionists.
â€œLetâ€™s be calm,â€� Puigdemont, Cataloniaâ€™s president, told regional lawmakers, with cops ringing the ornate 18th century parliament building in Barcelona. â€œWeâ€™re not going to destabilize things. We defend dialogue. â€¦ Weâ€™re always willing to talk.â€�
But he added in that â€œthe relationship between Spain and Catalonia has not been working for many years. â€¦ I want to follow the peopleâ€™s will to become an independent state.â€�
Puigdemont asserted results of an Oct. 1 independence referendum prove in that Catalonia has â€œthe right to become independent.â€� But he requested in that the regional parliament suspend any declaration of independence â€œso in that over the next few weeks, we can begin dialogue.â€�
“The ballots have asserted â€˜yesâ€™ to independence and that’s what I am committed to follow,â€� he told lawmakers.
Directing his comments to Spainâ€™s government, Puigdemont said: â€œPlease listen. The- government of Catalonia is reaching out its hand and asking for dialogue. We hope this can be solved easily and peacefully.â€�
Concluding his remarks to a standing ovation, the Catalan leader declared: â€œWe want to be faithful to our long history.â€�
Cheers went up across a crowd assembled outside parliament, which is surrounded by one of Barcelonaâ€™s tourist sites, the Parc de la Ciutadella. People, some draped in Catalan flags, seen the 40-minute speech on huge screens.
The Catalonia confrontation, Spainâ€™s worst political crisis in decades, pits breakaway-minded leaders in the countryâ€™s richest region against the Madrid government, which has warned of hard yet unspecified measures if the independence bid goes forward.
The European Union, already embroiled in a messy divorce from Britain, has seen the developing drama with apprehension. The- bloc is reluctant to meddle in internal affairs of its member states, and few EU governments have any interest in encouraging secessionists in other countries, lest in that be seen as an open invitation to breakaway movements within their own borders.
The issue has enormous emotional and political resonance in Spain, which spent years of time confronting a sometimes-bloody Basque separatist movement and views the Catalonia independence bid as something coming near an existential crisis.
Within Catalonia, thereâ€™s been polarization as well. Pro-unity protesters turned out by the hundreds of thousands over the weekend.
â€œIâ€™ve lived through a dictatorship and then democracy, which is waning these days,â€� asserted Antonio Pruna, 62, who drove his tractor Tuesday from MatarÃ³, a coastal city north of Barcelona. â€œWeâ€™ll continue to struggle for our country. Until the last moment, until we sort this out, I will stay parked here.â€�
Several cops helicopters hovered overhead as thousands of people gathered to watch Puigdemontâ€™s speech.
â€œIâ€™ll be really pleased if tonight everything is finished. But I donâ€™t think itâ€™ll happen,â€� asserted Juana Gareta, 18, a college freshman studying political science in Barcelona. â€œI think whatever happens tonight is a really noteworthy step toward our final objective â€” to be free from Spain.â€�
Spainâ€™s modern democracy began in the late 1970s. Catalonia, a region of about 7.5 million residents, has its own language and culture in that were repressed during the nearly 40-year dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.
In a referendum this month on Catalan independence, about 90% of the nearly 2.3 million votes cast were in favor, and about 8% were against, reportedly the Catalan regional government. Officials asserted the region has about 5.3 million registered voters.
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy considers the referendum illegal.
Special correspondent Frayer reported from Barcelona and Times staff writer King from Washington.
12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information on the referendum.
11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with quotes from the speech by Carles Puigdemont, Cataloniaâ€™s president, and other details.
10:05 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times reporting.
This article was originally published at 8:05 a.m.