Tuesday, March 20, 2018
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Rajoy warns Spain could suspend Catalonia autonomy

As thousands rally for unity, prime minister says government will ensure independence declaration 'comes to nothing'.

Catalonia is Spain

Spain could use constitutional powers to suspend Catalonia's autonomy if it declares independence, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned.

Rajoy's comments, published in El Pais newspaper, come as thousands gathered in Barcelona on Sunday to rally to call for Spanish unity.

Rajoy also ruled out holding mediation talks with Catalonia over the region's push to secede following Catalonia's October 1 referendum.

"The government is going to ensure that any declaration of independence comes to nothing," he told the newspaper.

Spain considers the referendum, which returned a 90 percent vote in favour of secession, to be illegal based on Spain's 1978 constitution.

The Constitution states that the country is indivisible and gives the national government the exclusive power to hold referendums.

"This battle is going to be fought and is going to be won, because it is a fair battle, it's a legal battle and it is what the immense majority of Spaniards want and what we all feel," Rajoy said, adding more national police would be deployed in Catalonia until the situation returned to normal.

Unity rallies

Sunday's unity rally followed a similar demonstration in Madrid a day earlier to attempt the two sides to reach a resolution, in which thousands of people dressed in white and marched under the slogan: "Shall we talk?"

More than 2.3 million Catalans took part in the referendum - a turnout of 42 percent.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said the result meant the region had "won the right to have an independent state".

Nearly 900 people were injured while attempting to vote, according to regional and national authorities. More than 400 police officers were also injured.

In the run-up to the referendum, Spanish authorities detained at least 14 Catalan officials.

Catalonia is home to 7.5 million people and has a distinct culture, history and language. The region is one of the wealthiest in Spain, accounting for a fifth of the country's economic output. Historical disputes and economic grievances have strengthened the cause of independence for the region.

Catalans previously voted in favour of independence in a non-binding referendum in 2014, with 80 percent in favour.

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