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Catalan President Holds Off On Declaring Split From Spain


We start in Spain. The president of the region of Catalonia says his people have voted for independence from Madrid, but he has suspended that process. Instead he's calling for mediation and dialogue with the Spanish government. Thousands of people gathered in Barcelona expecting to hear something different today - a unilateral declaration of independence. Lauren Frayer is in downtown Barcelona just outside the Catalan Parliament. And Lauren, what did the Catalan president have to say?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: He said this October 1 independence referendum which Spain had declared illegal was a logistical and political success. Here he is speaking in Catalan.



FRAYER: "Catalonia is a European affair," he said. He hinted that mediation is already in the works. That's something that Spain's government has always opposed. And when the Catalan president got to the crux of his speech, he said he would eventually ensure that Catalonia would become an independent republic. And here's what it sounded like outside on the street.


PUIGDEMONT: (Speaking Catalan).


FRAYER: People cheered. The crowd erupted when he said those words, independent republic. He went on to say he won't declare it, though, and he spoke of weeks of dialogue instead.

SIEGEL: That's a mixed message to the crowd about independence. Yes, it'll happen - not now. Tell us more about the reaction.

FRAYER: Well, there were some tears in the crowd. I mean, the Catalan Parliament, by the way, is inside one of Barcelona's biggest tourist attractions, the Parc de la Ciutadella. The park was shut down early this morning, as were all the surrounding streets. There were helicopters overhead, huge screens in the street for people to watch. Here's one independence activist I met in the crowd, Alessia Martinez (ph). She's a chemistry student at the university here.

ALESSIA MARTINEZ: I think people who voted yes on the 1st of October and people who went there and were hitted by the police - they want a yes now. So we don't want to speak to the Spanish government. They had some chances before, so now it's too late.

FRAYER: So she's frustrated with this call for dialogue. She says it's too late. She wants independence now.

SIEGEL: In the days immediately after the independence referendum in Catalonia, the Catalan leader was talking about certifying the vote, and then shortly thereafter, he would declare independence. That's what people had expected. I'm just curious. Has reaction to the Catalan vote been less positive than he assumed? Is that what people suspect might be at work here in his suspension of that independence process?

FRAYER: Well, I think in the days after that referendum, there was a tremendous outpouring of sympathy for Catalans after those horrible scenes of violence at the polls. And it sort of galvanized, you know, both undecided voters here but also people around the world. And in the meantime, we've heard from several companies that have offices in Catalonia that they would leave the region and move their headquarters out of this region and into a neighboring Spanish region. They want to stay part of the European Union, under European Union law. An independent Catalonia would have to leave the European Union, at least temporarily.

We also saw huge protests last weekend by Catalans against independence - hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. So it seemed as though the momentum has changed, and there isn't a real consensus for independence among the Catalan people.

SIEGEL: So where does this leave this standoff between Spain and Catalonia?

FRAYER: The ball is really in Madrid's court. Spanish police are here in Barcelona, thought to have been poised to arrest the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, if he had declared independence. I just spoke with a Spanish constitutional law expert, and he told me he's not quite sure that this toned-down speech will appease Madrid. Maybe the Spanish government will act against Catalonia's regional government anyway. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy addresses the Spanish Parliament tomorrow, and that's when he could begin the process of stripping the Catalan regional government of its powers, effectively taking over this region.

SIEGEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. That's in Catalonia. Thanks for talking with us.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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