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Mariano Rajoy urges large turnout in Catalan election

Mariano Rajoy speaks at campaign event on his first visit to Catalonia since Madrid imposed direct rule over the region.

Mariano Rajoy

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Catalans to turn out in large numbers to vote in a snap election next month, as he made his first visit to Catalonia since Spain's central government imposed direct rule over the region.

Rajoy travelled to Barcelona on Sunday to campaign ahead of the December 21 regional poll.

"We want massive voting ... so we can start a new political era of tranquility, normality, conviviality, with respect to the rules of the game and also of economic recuperation," Rajoy, leader of Spain's Popular Party, told supporters.

The Spanish leader said the vote next month will safeguard the region's economy and stop companies moving out of Catalonia.

"We must recuperate Catalonia from the many damages inflicted by the separatists. Separatism has unleashed insecurity and uncertainty, and both feelings are pushing the exodus of financial institutions to other regions in Spain," he said.

More than 2,000 companies have moved their headquarters from the northeastern region due to fears of being cast out of the European Union's common market in case Catalonia secedes. Employment figures have also showed that region fell behind other parts of the country in October.

Catalonia's parliament voted last month in favour of declaring independence from the rest of the country in the wake of an October 1 referendum that Spanish authorities had declared illegal.

In response, Madrid fired Catalonia's government, dissolved its parliament and called the early election.

"We've done exactly what any other country who respects itself would have done," said Rajoy. "What would France or Germany do if one of their regions suddenly wanted an autonomous referendum?" 

Rajoy's speech in Barcelona came a day after 750,000 Catalans took to the streets in a show of solidarity for eight former regional ministers jailed on charges of rebellion and sedition, two imprisoned civil society leaders and a government in exile in Belgium.  

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