Catalonia is warned not to do anything ‘irreversible’

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The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has delayed his crunch speech at which he may announce the region’s independence by one hour.

In extraordinary scenes, neither the Catalan leader nor his MPs appeared in the debating chamber, leaving the opposition politicians sitting in confusion for several minutes before they filed out, looking exasperated.

The theatrical development raises the tensions even further after a fraught 10 days since the Catalan referendum.

Delaying a major speech is highly unusual in the regional parliament and adds to the sense that today’s events are wholly unprecedented. It is understood that the decision to delay the speech was taken by the president himself.     

It is thought Puigdemont has delayed his key speech because he is locked in talks with international mediators who are desperately trying to avert a huge constitutional crisis, Catalan media have reported. 

But AFP reported that the Spanish government has already rejected mediation with Puigdemont. ‘It’s not on the cards,’ a central government spokesman told the agency.

President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, arrives at the Catalan Parliament ahead of his address at the Palau del Parlament de Catalunya on October 10, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain

President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, arrives at the Catalan Parliament ahead of his address at the Palau del Parlament de Catalunya on October 10, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain

President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, arrives at the Catalan Parliament ahead of his address at the Palau del Parlament de Catalunya on October 10, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain

Smiling and relaxed, he was driven to the door in a grey car and shook a policeman¿s hand before walking the 20feet to the entrance, passing through a revolving door and disappearing up a spiral staircase, ignoring questions from reporters 

Smiling and relaxed, he was driven to the door in a grey car and shook a policeman¿s hand before walking the 20feet to the entrance, passing through a revolving door and disappearing up a spiral staircase, ignoring questions from reporters 

Smiling and relaxed, he was driven to the door in a grey car and shook a policeman’s hand before walking the 20feet to the entrance, passing through a revolving door and disappearing up a spiral staircase, ignoring questions from reporters 

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont arrives at the parliament in Barcelona where he greets a policeman

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont arrives at the parliament in Barcelona where he greets a policeman

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont arrives at the parliament in Barcelona where he greets a policeman

People waiting in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona as President Puigdemont prepares to make a major speech during which he could declare independence 

People waiting in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona as President Puigdemont prepares to make a major speech during which he could declare independence 

People waiting in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona as President Puigdemont prepares to make a major speech during which he could declare independence 

The parliamentary session will start at 6pm local time and is expected to last between two and three hours while expectant crowds anxiously await the outcome outside

The parliamentary session will start at 6pm local time and is expected to last between two and three hours while expectant crowds anxiously await the outcome outside

The parliamentary session will start at 6pm local time and is expected to last between two and three hours while expectant crowds anxiously await the outcome outside

The Catalan president arrived at the region’s parliament earlier today.

Smiling and relaxed, he was driven to the door in a grey car and shook a policeman’s hand before walking the 20feet to the entrance, passing through a revolving door and disappearing up a spiral staircase, ignoring questions from reporters. 

The parliamentary session will start at 6pm local time and is expected to last between two and three hours while expectant crowds anxiously await the outcome outside.  

Spanish government officials have warned Catalonia not to do anything ‘irreversible’ ahead of an expected breakaway announcement tonight.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will reveal imminently whether he is following through on his threat to declare independence – defying the central government and Spanish courts.

People with Catalan flags gather during a rally in Barcelona after the arrival of regional president Carles Puigdemont, who is believed to be planning on declaring independence in parliament 

People with Catalan flags gather during a rally in Barcelona after the arrival of regional president Carles Puigdemont, who is believed to be planning on declaring independence in parliament 

People with Catalan flags gather during a rally in Barcelona after the arrival of regional president Carles Puigdemont, who is believed to be planning on declaring independence in parliament 

In extraordinary scenes, neither the Catalan leader nor his MPs appeared in the debating chamber, leaving the opposition politicians sitting in confusion for several minutes before they filed out, looking exasperated. Pictured: A man waves a Catalonian flag on top of a tractor ahead of the speech of the Catalan president

In extraordinary scenes, neither the Catalan leader nor his MPs appeared in the debating chamber, leaving the opposition politicians sitting in confusion for several minutes before they filed out, looking exasperated. Pictured: A man waves a Catalonian flag on top of a tractor ahead of the speech of the Catalan president

In extraordinary scenes, neither the Catalan leader nor his MPs appeared in the debating chamber, leaving the opposition politicians sitting in confusion for several minutes before they filed out, looking exasperated. Pictured: A man waves a Catalonian flag on top of a tractor ahead of the speech of the Catalan president

Crowds gather to watch the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont's address to the Catalan Parliament at Arc de Triomf

Crowds gather to watch the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont's address to the Catalan Parliament at Arc de Triomf

Crowds gather to watch the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont’s address to the Catalan Parliament at Arc de Triomf

A man shouts slogans during a rally in Barcelona. The delaying of the speech is extremely unusual. The theatrical development raises the tensions even further after a fraught 10 days since the Catalan referendum

A man shouts slogans during a rally in Barcelona. The delaying of the speech is extremely unusual. The theatrical development raises the tensions even further after a fraught 10 days since the Catalan referendum

A man shouts slogans during a rally in Barcelona. The delaying of the speech is extremely unusual. The theatrical development raises the tensions even further after a fraught 10 days since the Catalan referendum

Delaying a major speech is highly unusual in the regional parliament and adds to the sense that today's events are wholly unprecedented. It is understood that the decision to delay the speech was taken by the president himself. Pictured: Crowds gathered in Barcelona to watch the president's speech 

Delaying a major speech is highly unusual in the regional parliament and adds to the sense that today's events are wholly unprecedented. It is understood that the decision to delay the speech was taken by the president himself. Pictured: Crowds gathered in Barcelona to watch the president's speech 

Delaying a major speech is highly unusual in the regional parliament and adds to the sense that today’s events are wholly unprecedented. It is understood that the decision to delay the speech was taken by the president himself. Pictured: Crowds gathered in Barcelona to watch the president’s speech 

But the Spanish government issued a sharp warning to Puigdemont today as it grapples with the nation’s worst political crisis in a generation.

‘We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,’ government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters. 

The warning came as shocking footage emerged showing Nazi-saluting thugs attacking campaigners during an independence march in Valencia amid fears the Spanish region will be next to leave if Catalonia does announce a breakaway tonight.

Far right-wing extremists used sticks and batons to assault their victims, who included campaigners on a traditional nationalist march to mark the region’s national day. 

Footage captures the moment a Nazi-saluting thug kicked a woman to the ground during an independence march in Valencia

Footage captures the moment a Nazi-saluting thug kicked a woman to the ground during an independence march in Valencia

Footage captures the moment a Nazi-saluting thug kicked a woman to the ground during an independence march in Valencia

Far right-wing extremists used sticks and batons to assault their victims, who included campaigners on a traditional nationalist march to mark the region¿s national day

Far right-wing extremists used sticks and batons to assault their victims, who included campaigners on a traditional nationalist march to mark the region¿s national day

Far right-wing extremists used sticks and batons to assault their victims, who included campaigners on a traditional nationalist march to mark the region’s national day

A male friend went after the attacker but was quickly outnumbered by rivals who landed several punches on him before police intervened

A male friend went after the attacker but was quickly outnumbered by rivals who landed several punches on him before police intervened

A male friend went after the attacker but was quickly outnumbered by rivals who landed several punches on him before police intervened

A man carrying a Spanish flag was filmed upending a woman with a kick from behind. A male friend went after the attacker but was quickly outnumbered by rivals who landed several punches on him before police intervened.

Valencia, the autonomous community south of Catalonia, also has its own language which closely resembles Catalan but has a different name. Madrid fears a knock-on effect in other areas of Spain including the Basque Country if Catalonia succeeds in its fight to break away from the rest of the country.

The violence occurred just 24 hours before an expected unilateral Declaration of Independence by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, although it is thought he will announce independence is to be brought in progressively. 

During ugly scenes of violence yesterday, several people were reported injured -including a journalist covering the event said to have had boiling tea thrown at her face.

The ultras, who could be seen shouting insults including ‘Sons of B*****s’ and making Nazi salutes, eventually forced the march to divert from its traditional route, despite the presence of police reinforcements including riot police. 

Spain’s separatism crisis is facing a decisive moment today with Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont to address regional lawmakers in a speech his supporters hope will be a unilateral declaration of independence.

Police are guarding public buildings and closing off a park surrounding the regional Catalan parliament in Barcelona where such a declaration is likely to be met with a harsh response from Spanish central authorities. 

Whether the 54-year-old Catalan president will actually go ahead with it in defiance of the central government and national courts, play for time or simply back down is still a mystery.

Violent scenes broke out during brawls between right-wing extremists and independence activists in Valencia

Violent scenes broke out during brawls between right-wing extremists and independence activists in Valencia

Violent scenes broke out during brawls between right-wing extremists and independence activists in Valencia

The violence occurred just 24 hours before an expected unilateral Declaration of Independence by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, although it is thought he will announce independence is to be brought in progressively

The violence occurred just 24 hours before an expected unilateral Declaration of Independence by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, although it is thought he will announce independence is to be brought in progressively

The violence occurred just 24 hours before an expected unilateral Declaration of Independence by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, although it is thought he will announce independence is to be brought in progressively

At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose independence drive has raised concern for stability in the European Union. 

Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have urged Catalan separatists to back down and ease the country’s biggest upheaval since it returned to democracy in the 1970s.

But Puigdemont says an independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a ban by Madrid justifi
es secession.

About 90 per cent of the 2.29 million who cast ballots voted to split from Spain, as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted an illegal poll that was severely repressed by police.

Puigdemont hinted in a weekend interview that the region would go ahead with the declaration if Madrid continued to refuse dialogue.

‘We have said yes to so many mediation options that have been proposed,’ he told Catalan broadcaster TV3.

Footage captured police trying to keep the peace during ugly scenes in Valencia on Monday

Footage captured police trying to keep the peace during ugly scenes in Valencia on Monday

Footage captured police trying to keep the peace during ugly scenes in Valencia on Monday

During ugly scenes of violence yesterday, several people were reported injured -including a journalist covering the event said to have had boiling tea thrown at her face

‘The days are going by and if the Spanish state does not give a positive response, we will do what we set out to do.’

Such a move ‘will not go unanswered by the government’, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria retorted on Monday.

‘If this gentleman unilaterally declares independence, measures will have to be taken,’ she told the COPE radio station.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at the weekend refused to rule out an unprecedented constitutional manoeuvre to impose direct rule on the semi-autonomous region – a move likely to heighten tensions still further. 

Catalan separatists have come under intense pressure both at home and abroad to halt plans to break away from Spain.

On Monday evening, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned a unilateral declaration of independence would put ‘social cohesion’ at risk.

The results of the referendum ‘cannot be an endorsement to proclaim independence but they constitute the possibility of opening a dialogue and international mediation’, she said.

Spain's separatism crisis is facing a decisive moment today with Catalonia's leader Carles Puigdemont (pictured) to address regional lawmakers in a speech his supporters hope will be a unilateral declaration of independence

Spain's separatism crisis is facing a decisive moment today with Catalonia's leader Carles Puigdemont (pictured) to address regional lawmakers in a speech his supporters hope will be a unilateral declaration of independence

Spain’s separatism crisis is facing a decisive moment today with Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont (pictured) to address regional lawmakers in a speech his supporters hope will be a unilateral declaration of independence

A pro-Unity rally marches through Barcelona on Sunday in response to the disputed referendum on Catalan independence

A pro-Unity rally marches through Barcelona on Sunday in response to the disputed referendum on Catalan independence

A pro-Unity rally marches through Barcelona on Sunday in response to the disputed referendum on Catalan independence

In France, Nathalie Loiseau, minister for European affairs, said that ‘if there were a declaration of independence it would be unilateral and it wouldn’t be recognised’.

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed Spanish unity in a telephone call with Rajoy over the weekend.

The pressure also came from the street itself.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Spanish flag-waving demonstrators packed central Barcelona to protest against the independence plan.

Over in the other camp, the ANC, an influential Catalan pro-independence association, called on supporters to come watch Tuesday’s parliamentary session live on screens in front of the regional parliament in Barcelona. 

The crisis has caused uncertainty in business circles.

Following the lead of the region’s two major banks, CaixaBank and Sabadell, a string of companies have moved their legal headquarters – but not their employees – from Catalonia to other parts of Spain.

On Monday, highway operator Abertis, telecoms company Cellnex and real estate firm Colonial became the latest to announce their move from Barcelona to Madrid.

Recent opinion polls indicate that Catalans are split on independence, though regional leaders said police violence during the referendum had turned many against Madrid.

Demands for independence in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, date back centuries.

But a 2010 move by Spain’s Constitutional Court to water down a statute that gave Catalonia additional powers, combined with an economic crisis in Spain, sparked a surge in support for independence.