x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

Spain marks national day amid Catalonia crisis

The country is in the midst of its worst political crisis in a generation after separatists in the wealthy northeastern region voted in a banned referendum on October 1 to split from Spain

A construction worker looks at a new apartment block draped in a giant Spanish flag in a suburb of Madrid on October 11, 2017. Andrew Winning / Reuters
A construction worker looks at a new apartment block draped in a giant Spanish flag in a suburb of Madrid on October 11, 2017. Andrew Winning / Reuters

Spain marks its national day on Thursday with a show of unity by opponents of Catalonian independence, a day after the central government gave the region's separatist leader until next week to clarify whether he intends to push ahead with secession.

The country is in the midst of its worst political crisis in a generation after separatists in the wealthy northeastern region voted in a banned referendum on October 1 to split from Spain.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI are due to attend a traditional military parade in central Madrid, where Spanish flags have been tied to balconies and windows around the city by pro-unity supporters on the nationwide holiday.

Armed forces will march down Madrid's Paseo de la Castellana boulevard to mark the day that Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas in 1492 while a pro-unity rally by members of the far-right is expected in the Catalan capital, Barcelona.

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Thousands rally in Madrid and Barcelona to demand leaders negotiate

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Mr Rajoy has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession and his government said on Wednesday that it would take control of the region if it insisted on breaking away.

The warning came after Catalonia's president, Carles Puigdemont, announced on Tuesday that he had accepted the mandate for "Catalonia to become an independent state" and signed an independence declaration but asked regional lawmakers to suspend it to allow for dialogue with Madrid.

The legal validity of the declaration was unclear.

After holding an emergency cabinet meeting, Mr Rajoy told MPs that Mr Puigdemont had until next Monday to decide if he planned to push ahead with secession and until next Thursday to reconsider, otherwise Madrid would suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy.

The deadline set the clock ticking on Spain's most serious political emergency since its return to democracy four decades ago.