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Spain awaits Catalan declaration

If independence announced, Madrid vows to take ‘measures’

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Photographs by AP/PAUL WHITE

Visitors take photos in the Stock Exchange in Madridon Monday ahead of a Catalan regional parliament session where a declaration of independence may be made.

BARCELONA, Spain -- The focus of the deepening clash between Catalan separatists and Spanish authorities is shifting to the regional parliament for a key session likely to include a historic declaration regarding independence that Spain has pledged to crush.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont hasn't revealed the precise message he will deliver tonight, though separatist politicians are expecting some sort of declaration based on the results of the disputed Oct. 1 referendum on independence.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said ministers were prepared to stop Puigdemont. Spanish Energy Minister Alvaro Nadal said the push to break away is doing more damage to the Catalan economy than August's terrorist attacks as companies decamp.

"If this man unilaterally declares independence, measures will have to be taken, and the government will take measures," Saenz told Spanish radio. She said action would be taken even if the government doesn't win cross-party backing. "We will seek support, but the act will not be left without a response from the government."

At stake is the territorial integrity of Spain, threatened by a growing separatist movement that is sorely testing the strength of its constitution and the skill of its national and regional leaders.

Some expect a strictly symbolic declaration, while others believe a risky full-scale break with Spain will be attempted, even as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows he will use all lawful means to keep Spain intact.

Rajoy, who will address the Spanish parliament Wednesday, pledged that "national unity will be maintained" by using all instruments available to him. That includes suspending the regional administration and sending in security forces.

The Spanish leader has said he is willing to invoke a constitutional clause that allows Madrid to take over direct control of regions if they violate Spain's constitution -- a move that could apply in this case because Spain's constitutional court had suspended the referendum.

Its results are therefore considered invalid under Spanish law.

"Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will do everything that legislation allows us to ensure this," Rajoy told German newspaper Die Welt. "We will prevent this independence from taking place."

Puigdemont's embrace of independence may be slowed by the decision of several major banks and businesses to move their headquarters out of Catalonia because they want to remain under the European Union's regulatory umbrella, and also by the bloc's backing of Spain despite a police crackdown on people trying to vote in the referendum.

The Spanish government's staunch opposition, the lukewarm response of the international community to the prospect of a breakaway state in Europe and the concerns of business leaders all suggest an independence move would extract a heavy price from Catalan's separatist leaders.

Still, separatist politicians say there will be a declaration of independence for the northeastern region of 7.5 million people during today's session, although some ruling coalition lawmakers say the move could be simply "symbolic."

The leaders of the Catalan National Assembly, a civic group that led a series of pro-independence demonstrations and works closely with Puigdemont, vowed in a video posted on Twitter that today's session of the regional parliament will see the president declare independence. Marta Pascal, who heads Puigdemont's party, told the BBC there will be a symbolic recognition of the result of the referendum but no unilateral declaration of a new state.

The Oct. 1 referendum vote has been followed by mass protests of Catalans angered by heavy-handed police tactics.

But there also have been well-organized, large-scale rallies in both Catalonia and Madrid by people committed to keeping Spain intact.

Police say roughly 350,000 people took part in the anti-independence protests Sunday in Barcelona. The demonstrators chanted "Don't be fooled, Catalonia is Spain" and called for Puigdemont to go to prison for holding the banned referendum. Some held up signs thanking Spain's National Police and Civil Guard for their support.

Despite the opposition, some politicians and activists say they won't accept anything less than a full declaration of independence at today's session.

The High Judiciary in Catalonia says its president, Jesus Barrientos, has asked the chief of the National Police force in the region to join in the protection of the building. The statement says the move is aimed at stopping any attempt to suspend the judiciary and oust its president in the event of secession, even if the declaration would be illegal under Spanish laws.

Catalan authorities say the "Yes" side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, although only 43 percent of the region's 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was disrupted by police raids of polling stations.

They say this validates their independence bid.

Rajoy has said the central government could take direct control of Catalonia, which now enjoys a measure of autonomy.

Nadal, the energy minister, suggested Catalonia would be jeopardizing electricity supplies and communications networks. Catalonia has little control over energy supplies and is reliant on the big Spanish companies that, in theory, could suspend service and turn the lights off.

Information for this article was contributed by Aritz Parra of The Associated Press and by Maria Tadeo, Esteban Duarte, Angeline Benoit, Charles Penty, Sharon Smyth and Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 10/10/2017

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