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Spanish Premier Issues New Warning Against Catalan Separatists

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday issued a warning to the country's would-be breakaway region of Catalonia, saying Madrid would prevent any move toward independence.

Rajoy's comments, published in the German newspaper Die Welt, come amid a growing political crisis over the region in eastern Spain of 7.5 million people that voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum on Oct. 1.

Spain called the referendum illegal and police in riot gear moved in on the day of the vote to try to forcibly shut it down, firing rubber bullets at unarmed protesters.

"Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will do everything that legislation allows us to ensure this," Rajoy told the newspaper. "We will prevent this independence from taking place."

"If they declare independence, there will be decisions to restore the law and democracy," he said in a radio interview Monday.

Meanwhile, French European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau says Paris will not recognize Catalonia if it unilaterally declares independence.

As NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, the people in the region are nearly evenly divided over the issue of independence even though many who are in favor of staying with Spain may not have voted in the referendum.

Lauren spoke with José Manuel Gonzalez, 45, who is a businessman born and raised in the Catalonian capital.

"They say the point is to have an independent country because it will be better," Gonzalez told NPR. "I don't think it will be better at all, because they want to take the country outside the European Union and outside of Spain. It will be very bad for everybody here in Catalonia."

Catalonia's regional president, Carles Puigdemont, is expected to address the Catalan legislature on Tuesday about the crisis. Separatist politicians say they will move ahead with an independence declaration despite Spain's objections.

Catalonia is Spain's wealthiest region, with a unique history, culture and language. It offered the most resistance to Francisco Franco, the military dictator who came to power in the wake of the Spanish Civil War with the aid of Mussolini and Hitler. Franco ruled Spain for nearly four decades until 1975.

The dictator was especially repressive in Catalonia. As Foreign Policy writes, he "canceled the autonomy charters that the [Spanish] republic had granted to the Catalans and the Basques and banned all regional languages and symbols (including the Catalan language, its flag, and national holiday, the Diada)."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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