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Catalonia asserts right to statehood but suspends declaration of independence for 'a few weeks'

Regional President Carles Puigdemont said today that Catalans had voted for independence.

Updated 7.05 pm

Spain Catalonia Puigdemont delivers his opening speech at the parliament in Barcelona. Source: Manu Fernandez/PA Images

CATALONIA’S PRESIDENT HAS said that the region has won the right to statehood but suspended a declaration of independence from Spain.

Instead, Carles Puigdemont says that such a declaration would wait “a few weeks” so talks could first take place with the Spanish government.

“As president I presume to present to you the results of this referendum. And the result is Catalans want an independent state,” he said, adding that parliament had a mandate to establish such a state, “in the form of a republic”.

Puigdemont then said that the past few weeks have ratcheted up tensions across Spain and he wanted to calm tensions with negotiations.

“We’re suspending the declaration of independence for a few weeks, because we want a reasonable dialogue, a mediation with the Spanish state,” he said.

The central government fired back swiftly, with a spokesman rejecting what Madrid termed Catalonia’s “tacit” independence declaration.

In his anxiously awaited speech that was delayed for about 90 minutes, Puigdemont said that Catalans had long wanted to vote on statehood but were thwarted by Spain.

“We tried for dialogue 18 times with the Spanish government, we tried to have a referendum, just like the Scottish did. We tried to do it,” he said.

Pro-independence crowds gathered near the regional parliament in Barcelona ahead of the announcement to watch on two large screens.

Spain Catalonia People with Catalan flags gather during a rally in Barcelona. Source: Francisco Seco/PA Images

Ahead of the speech in Madrid, the Spanish government had warned against a unilateral declaration of independence.

“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.

EU President Donald Tusk had also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.

Today’s speech came about after a referendum that took place in the region on 1 October.

About 90% of the 2.29 million people who cast ballots voted to split from Spain.

Spain Catalonia There's a heavy police presence as Puigdemont arrives at the Catalan Parliament. Source: Manu Fernandez/PA Images

The referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court but was backed by Catalonia’s regional government.

On the day of the referendum, Spain’s national police were seen attacking Catalans attempting to vote, provoking international criticism and deepening the crisis.

The separatists’ roadmap for independence consists of a declaration of independence followed by a series of legislative steps and votes to set up a new state, which could take months.

A transitional period is also planned that would allow for Catalonia adopt a new constitution and declare the regional leader as the new head of a Catalan state.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2017

Read: Catalan president may declare region independent in defiance of Spain >

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Rónán Duffy

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