Catalan leader urges show of strength to clinch independence

Catalan President Quim Torra on Tuesday urged his separatist supporters to ensure a massive turnout at upcoming public gatherings, saying large numbers on the streets will help compel the Spanish government to grant the region a vote on self-determination.

Torra said in Barcelona that he is ready to enter talks on Catalonia's future with the central government in Madrid and that he rejects violence, but added he will only settle for "freedom" — a reference to secession.

Catalonia "is at a crossroads" in its drive for independence, Torra said in a much-anticipated speech at Catalonia's National Theater.

The region's national day, called the Diada, on Sept. 11 and the Oct. 1 commemoration of an illegal referendum on secession on the same day last year present an "enormous challenge" for the separatist movement as it tries to gain traction again after a series of legal setbacks, Torra said.

"At the Diada, our success is at stake," Torra said as he called on people to fill the streets in a show of support for secession, injecting new momentum into the struggle.

"Only an agreed, binding and internationally recognized referendum on self-determination will resolve the conflict" between Barcelona and Madrid, he said.

Nine prominent separatist leaders are in Spanish jails awaiting trial on charges that include rebellion for their role in last October's illegal referendum and a declaration of independence that was thwarted by Spanish courts.

Meanwhile, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is living in exile in Belgium after Spain's bid to extradite him from Germany on rebellion charges failed.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose center-left government came to power in June, has adopted a change in tone on the Catalan issue, taking a less confrontational stance than the previous conservative administration of Mariano Rajoy.

But Sanchez's offer to broaden the Catalan region's self-ruling powers is spurned by the secessionists, who say they won't back down from their demand for self-determination on their terms.