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Spain braces for more protests over Catalonia

Spain braced for more protests Saturday despite tentative signs that the sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered a first apology to Catalans injured by police during their outlawed independence vote.

Catalan leaders had threatened to declare independence unilaterally and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to stop them, rejecting calls for mediation in a dispute that has drawn cries of concern even from Barcelona and Real Madrid footballers.

Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades has raised fears of further unrest in the northeastern region, a tourist-friendly area of 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

The opponents of secession have called for demonstrations around Spain and a major rally in Barcelona on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, people who support dialog to end the crisis plan to gather in a bid to pressure mayors nationwide. The anonymous initiative, which spread across social media, seeks to promote talks using the slogan, “Spain is better than its leaders.”

“It’s the moment to come together to tell (our leaders) that they are incapable and irresponsible,” the group’s manifesto reads. The gathering will start from around midday (1000 GMT).

A “patriotic” march will start around the same time in central Madrid, organized by people who support a united Spain.

Protesters with Spanish flags shout slogans in favor of the Spanish constitution in front of Spanish National Police officers during a demonstration defending a united Spain in Barcelona, on October 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Friday saw the first signs the sides may be willing to step back from the brink in a political conflict that risks destabilizing Europe.

After days of ill-tempered rhetoric, the central government said it regretted the injuries and suggested Catalonia should hold a regional election to settle the crisis.

Catalan government minister Santi Vila, a close of ally of regional president Carles Puigdemont, meanwhile, told broadcaster Rac1 that his side could consider a “ceasefire” in the dispute, to avoid a further crackdown by Madrid.

Businesses and the government kept up economic pressure on Catalonia however, with several big companies announcing moves to shift their legal domiciles to other parts of Spain.

Puigdemont postponed an appearance in the regional parliament at which some leaders were hoping for a declaration of independence, a spokesman said — gaining time and easing tensions. It was unclear what he planned to say at the session.

Spain’s central government apologized on behalf of police to the people hurt in last Sunday’s referendum disturbances.

“I can do nothing but regret it, apologies on behalf of the officers who intervened,” said the government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo.

In Madrid, meanwhile, Catalonia’s police chief and two prominent separatist leaders avoided being remanded in custody at a court hearing Friday over sedition accusations.

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