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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

All eyes on Puigdemont as Catalans awake to their day of destiny

The Spanish region could declare independence after a parliamentary session in Barcelona on Tuesday evening

A Spanish policeman stands next to a police van decorated with Spanish and Catalan flags by protesters attending a demonstration called by "Societat Civil Catalana" (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain on October 8, 2017 in Barcelona. Lluis Gene / AFP
A Spanish policeman stands next to a police van decorated with Spanish and Catalan flags by protesters attending a demonstration called by "Societat Civil Catalana" (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain on October 8, 2017 in Barcelona. Lluis Gene / AFP

Catalans wake up on Tuesday to what could be a momentous day in their history as the world waits to see whether the region will proclaim its independence from Spain.

Having passed a notional deadline on Monday for when the announcement would be made, it is widely expected that Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will make a statement when he addresses the regional parliament to deliver the results of the October 1 referendum.

A spokesman for the Catalan parliament told CNN that the session will take place at 6pm CET, and Mr Puigdemont will give members an update on the “current political situation”.

Following demonstrations on Sunday in Barcelona, which saw hundreds of thousands of pro-Spanish protesters take to the streets of the capital, the divide between Madrid and the regional government has shown no signs of narrowing.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy told Die Welt that the province would not be allowed to secede.

“Spain will not be divided, and the national unity will be preserved. To this end we will employ all the means we have within the law. It is up to the government to make decisions, and to do so at the right moment,” he told the German newspaper.

“We have listened to many people. I believe we know what Spaniards think, and they should know that the government too is clear about what it has to do.”

Catalonia is the economic powerhouse of Spain, making up 19 per cent of the national economy, but there have already been signs that uncertainty over its future is causing a headache. The Times reported on Monday that companies were lining up to leave the region.

Abertis, a corporation which runs more than 8,000 kilometres of motorways in Europe and America and which employs more than 16,000 people, was likely to move its legal headquarters from Barcelona to another part of Spain after a board meeting on Monday.

Telecommunications group Cellnex, and Colonial, a construction company, are also likely to follow the growing exodus out of the region following executive level discussions. Last week CaixaBank, Banco Sabadell, Spain’s fourth biggest bank, and a raft of other companies chose to move their operations from Catalonia.

The newspaper also reported that there are growing signs of panic on the streets of Barcelona and across the region as people withdrew money from banks and began to stockpile food in case the situation turned violent during the week.

A manager at CaixaBank said that savers had withdrawn 400,000 euros (Dh1.7m) in one day last week, twice the amount that was usually available from a single branch.

“Normally any branch only holds up to 200,000 euros in cash, we had to request extra so these people could get all their money,” the manager told The Times. “They were putting it in Spanish banks. There was a real panic. Mine is only a small branch. Imagine what it was like in bigger branches.”

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Read more:

Catalonia crisis: Hundreds of thousands of protesters rally against independence in Barcelona

Spain's third largest bank heads business exodus out of Catalonia

Barcelona star Iniesta calls for dialogue to resolve Catalan issue

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There were further warnings for the Catalans from other European nations on the dangers of independence on Monday.

France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said: “If there were to be a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral, and it would not be recognised.

“Catalonia cannot be defined by the vote organised by the independence movement just over a week ago. This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics.”

She also repeated the EU line that if the region seceded from Spain it would automatically leave the union and would have to reapply for membership.

“If independence were to be recognised — which is not something that’s being discussed — the most immediate consequence would be that [Catalonia] automatically left the European Union.”