Catalonia’s president said Tuesday he has a mandate to declare independence -- but he proposed waiting a “few weeks” to encourage dialogue with Spain.
Carles Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament a landslide victory in the region's disputed Oct. 1 referendum on independence gives his government grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain. But he is suggesting holding off.
Puigdemont's speech was highly critical of the Spanish government's response to the referendum, but he said Catalans have nothing against Spain or Spaniards, and that they want to understand each other better.
At the end of his speech, Puigdemont was applauded by standing separatist lawmakers. Pro-independence demonstrators gathered in front of large TV screens in Barcelona to watch the address. Just days earlier, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in the Catalonia capital against secession.
The most recent polls taken before the referendum, according to The Associated Press, showed that Catalonia's 7.5 million residents were roughly split over secession, while a majority would support an official referendum on independence if it were condoned by Spanish authorities.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government has repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on grounds that it is unconstitutional since it would only poll a portion of Spain's 46 million residents.
Catalonia's separatists camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain's recent economic crisis and by Madrid's rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.
Spanish police, ordered to prevent the Oct. 1 referendum, clashed with voters and supporters, and Catalan officials said over 900 people were injured. Videos of police pulling voters out by their hair and kicking them on stairs flashed around the world. An Interior Ministry official later apologized for the injuries but laid the blame on the Catalan government for having encouraged people to vote.
The influential business community has indicated its unhappiness with the prospect of independence under current circumstances. Catalonia's two major banks, CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, energy giant Gas Natural and the company that provides Barcelona's water have all decided in recent days to move their headquarters to other parts of Spain because of a desire to stay within the European Union. Some believe this will lead Catalan political leaders to be more cautious about declaring independence.
Many Catalans have long highlighted the region's differences from the rest of Spain but the latest surge for independence began in 2010, when Spain's top court struck down key parts of a charter that would have granted Catalonia greater autonomy and recognized it as a nation within Spain.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of residents have thronged onto the streets every Sept. 11, a Catalan holiday, to demand independence. Spain's recent financial crisis and the harsh austerity measures that followed generated more support for secession. Catalans frequently complain they contribute more in taxes to the Spanish treasury than they get back.
The European Union has already said Catalonia would be expelled from the bloc and its shared currency, the euro, if it declares independence. To get back in, it would have to re-apply — a lengthy and uncertain process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.