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article imageMain parties in "unity" agreement against Catalan separatists: Spain PM

By Michaela Cancela-Kieffer (AFP)     Oct 30, 2015 in World

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday the nation's main parties have reached an agreement to defend national unity as an independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia gets into higher gear.

"The fundamentals of the agreement are done," he told a news conference after meeting opposition leaders to build a united response to a plan from Catalonia's ruling separatists to launch a process that would lead to full independence from Spain within 18 months.

"We are all in agreement on the unity of Spain, we all agree on national sovereignty, we are all in agreement that laws must be respected, we are all in agreement that all Spaniards are equal," he added.

Rajoy, criticised within his own conservative Popular Party for not doing enough to block the separatists, met the leader of new far-left party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias for the first time, as well as the head of centre-right party Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera.

The prime minister, who faces a general election on December 20, had already met the head of the main opposition Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, on Wednesday.

Rivera said after his talks with Rajoy that he had proposed a "national pact" against Catalan separatism that would see all major parties agree to defend the country's unity.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (R) speaks with leader of new far-left party Podemos Pablo Igle...
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (R) speaks with leader of new far-left party Podemos Pablo Iglesias during a meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid on October 30, 2015
Javier Soriano, AFP

"The idea is that Spaniards know that whatever parliamentary majority emerges (after the general election), Spain will not be in play," Rivera added.

Ciudadanos, which was formed in Catalonia to oppose separatism, came second in a Catalan regional election last month behind a coalition of separatists, and polls show it could emerge as king-maker at the national level following the general election.

Pro-independence parties announced Tuesday they would pass a resolution early next month in the regional Catalan parliament calling on the chamber to announce the formal start of secession from Spain and the formation of a new republican state within 18 months.

The motion calls on the regional assembly to start working on legislation within 30 days to create a separate social security system and treasury.

It also says the process would not be subject to decisions made by the Spanish institutions, including the Constitutional Court.

No date has yet been set for the Catalan assembly to vote on the motion.

- 'Against anti-secession fronts' -

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government will immediately challenge the motion in Spain's Constitutional Court if it is passed.

Pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament for the first time in elections last month.

Ciudadanos leader and candidate for the upcoming December 20 Spanish general election  Albert Rivera...
Ciudadanos leader and candidate for the upcoming December 20 Spanish general election, Albert Rivera, gestures during a press conference after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid on October 30, 2015
Javier Soriano, AFP

But while they topped the poll, winning 72 seats, the pro-independence camp failed to win a majority of all votes cast -- a fact emphasised by the central government in Madrid, which has fiercely resisted their push for independence.

Spain has a history of reaching national pacts on key issues. Political parties have in the past joined forces in opposition to attacks by the armed Basque separatist group ETA and after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 to guide the country to democracy.

Podemos was the only party to be cool on the pact. Iglesias said after his meeting with Rajoy that "he was not convinced by anti-secession fronts" and favoured "dialogue".

While Podemos wants Catalonia to stay within Spain, it has also said it would support a referendum on the matter.

Catalans' longstanding demands for greater autonomy have intensified in recent years, in tandem with the country's economic crisis.

The region of 7.5 million people has it its own widely spoken language and distinct culture.

But support for Catalan independence has slipped to 41 percent from 45 percent before the regional election, a poll published in top-selling daily newspaper El Pais showed Friday.

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