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Catalonia appeals for ‘dialog’ in letter to Madrid ahead of referendum

Leaders of Spain’s independence-seeking Catalonia region have called for “dialog” with the central government in an effort to fend off a political crisis over an upcoming referendum on separation from the mainland.

In a Friday letter addressed to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI, Catalonia’s regional president Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau complained that the state had mounted “an unprecedented repression offensive” against the autonomous region.

The letter also appealed for “political dialog, based on the legitimacy we all have, to make possible something that in a democracy is never a problem and even less a crime: listening to the voice of the people.”

The appeal for dialog came as the Spanish government approved measures on Friday to tighten its control over how Catalonia spends central state money.

Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said the Catalan authorities could not be trusted to spend the money on public services.

The government of the wealthy northeastern region is set to hold a referendum on secession from Spain on October 1 in defiance of stiff opposition from Madrid, which views the vote as illegall.

Rajoy said on Friday the government will keep acting to prevent the independence referendum.

Earlier this month, Spain’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling to suspend the referendum after Rajoy legally challenged the vote for self-rule and insisted that the country was constitutionally indivisible.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gives a speech during a regional Popular Party (PP) meeting in Barcelona on September 15, 2017.  (Photo by AFP)

Madrid has threatened to disqualify Puigdemont, who is facing criminal charges of misuse of public funds, disobedience and abuse of office for organizing the referendum.

The Catalan leader, however, emphasizes that Madrid does not have the authority to do so, insisting that the vote will proceed at any cost.

Meanwhile, Madrid stated on Friday that it had not received the letter, with government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo saying in a news conference, “To talk about dialogue when the only thing the Catalan government has wanted for months, years, is a referendum come what may, seems like a threat.”

Shortly after the written appeal by Puigdemont and Colau, the Budget Ministry in Madrid announced that the uncertainty generated by the stand-off could harm Spain’s economy and push up sovereign borrowing costs amid reports that some investors sold Spanish government bonds and switched to Italian debt earlier this week.

Spanish prosecutors in Catalonia filed legal proceedings on Thursday against five members of an electoral board set up by the regional government to oversee the banned vote.

Prosecutors have also ordered police to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any other item that could be used in the referendum and launched an official complaint against Puigdemont and other top Catalan officials over their referendum plans.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with their own language and culture, accounts for nearly one-fifth of Spain’s economic output.

Recent polls by the regional government suggest that those opposing independence outnumber the supporters by a low margin. However, local authorities say Catalans would decide on the issue once and for all in the October referendum.

The pro-independence camp has two weeks to win over its critics who are reluctant to take part in the referendum. If they win, the separatists have vowed to declare independence within days for Spain’s northeastern region, with Barcelona as Catalonia’s capital.

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