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Rajoy urges Catalans to support a unified Spain

Reuters

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures during a meeting in Barcelona on Sunday.

AFP-Jiji BARCELONA (AFP-Jiji) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Sunday he wanted to return to a “democratic and free” Catalonia as he aimed to rally support for a unified Spain on his first visit to the turbulent region since it declared independence.

A day after hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona to demand the release of separatist officials detained over their independence drive, Rajoy called on the “silent majority” of Catalans to back unity.

“We have to recover the sensible, practical, enterprising and dynamic Catalonia ... that has contributed so much to the progress of Spain and Europe,” Rajoy told members of his Popular Party in Barcelona.

“We want to regain a Catalonia for everyone, democratic and free,” he added. “We can do it if the silent majority turn out and vote.”

The Catalonia crisis has caused concern in the European Union as the bloc deals with Brexit and uncertainty over the fate of the region’s 7.5 million people. More than 2,400 businesses have moved their legal headquarters elsewhere.

Rajoy on Sunday urged those businesses “not to go.”

Separatist lawmakers, who were dismissed by Madrid after declaring their region independence from Spain last month, insist that they were given a mandate for secession by a banned Oct. 1 referendum.

However, pro-unity camps say that the vote was deeply flawed and largely boycotted by opponents of independence, though more than 90 percent of those who turned out backed a breakaway.

Several officials have been detained over their role in pushing for independence, which is outlawed under Spain’s post civil-war Constitution.

The region — which accounts for one fifth of Spanish GDP — remains deeply divided on independence and Barcelona’s mayor on Saturday slammed separatist lawmakers for dragging Catalonia into chaos.

A poll commissioned Sunday by the Madrid-based El Pais daily showed that less than one third of Catalans now believed independence was possible in the near future.

The 28 percent of respondents who said they thought swift secession was viable was down sharply from a similar poll in October.Speech

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