MADRID — Catalan President Quim Torra vowed on Tuesday to keep pushing for the region to split from Spain, rebuffing Madrid’s offer to hold a vote on giving the region more autonomy.
“We will never give up on our right to self-determination,” Torra said in a speech in Barcelona, adding that the only solution to the long-standing conflict would be an “agreed, binding and internationally-recognized referendum” on secession.
An independence referendum last year declared illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court resulted in the regional parliament declaring independence. Madrid then ousted the regional government under Torra’s predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, and imposed direct rule.
A new Spanish government under Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has sought to take a softer stance toward Catalan separatists, offering to hold a vote that could expand the region’s autonomy. Sánchez told radio station Cadena Ser on Monday that he wanted Catalans to vote on a “referendum on self-government, not self-determination,” arguing that a new statute of autonomy — which requires a popular vote in the region — could contribute to solving the problem.
But Torra rejected such a proposal, insisting an independence referendum was the only solution.
Sánchez, who took power in June, has advocated for better dialogue with Catalan authorities and made a series of gestures aimed at reducing tensions in the region, a marked contrast with the strategy of his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy. Sánchez invited Torra to his government headquarters in July, restarted regular discussions between officials in Madrid and Barcelona that had stopped for years. He also supported former Catalan leaders being transferred to prisons in Catalonia as they await trial for their role in last year’s separatist push.
In his speech, Torra promised to make sure the spirit of the vote for independence last year — which went unrecognized internationally — would be fulfilled, and said he wouldn’t accept anything short of the acquittal of the two dozen separatist leaders who face trial on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Evoking Martin Luther King Jr., he also announced a “march for the civil, social and national rights of Catalonia.”
The Spanish government’s spokesperson and minister of education, Isabel Celaá, denounced Torra’s words as “19th-century speech” based on “victim mentality,” which were addressed toward the separatists’ base rather than to the Catalan population as a whole.
She told reporters that Madrid will continue advocating for dialogue and urged the Catalan leader to communicate with the non-nationalist citizens of the region. The separatists “have a parliamentary majority, but they don’t have a social majority,” she said, referring to the fact that Catalan pro-independence parties won 47 percent of the vote in the last regional election in December.
The leader of the liberal Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, said Torra’s remarks were enough grounds for Madrid to impose direct rule again on the region. “Break with the separatists,” he urged Sánchez. “Defending equality and the union of all Spaniards is not a choice, it’s your obligation.”
Xavier García Albiol, the regional leader of the Popular Party, said Torra’s words were “the declaration of an uprising.”
Torra desprecia a la mayoría de catalanes y anuncia otra ofensiva para tratar de liquidar España. Basta ya, Sr Sánchez: rompa con los separatistas, apliquemos el 155 antes de que sea tarde. Defender la igualdad y la unión de todos los españoles no es una opción, es su obligación. pic.twitter.com/tinXqbOvri
— Albert Rivera (@Albert_Rivera) September 4, 2018