Catalonia’s regional leader is due to address parliament in a highly anticipated session that could spell the birth of a new republic, marking a critical point in the standoff between separatists and Spain’s central authorities.
Security is tight in Barcelona and police cordoned off a park surrounding the legislative building where Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is expected to walk a fine line when he addresses regional legislators.
The speech will need to appease the most radical separatist-minded supporters of his ruling coalition, but Sr Puigdemont faces shutting down any possibility of negotiating with Spain if he adopts a hard line.
The Catalan leader has not revealed the precise message he will deliver in the address, but separatist legislators and activists have said they will not be satisfied with anything short of an independence declaration.
A full declaration of secession – or an outright proclamation of a new Catalan republic – would meet fierce opposition by central Spanish authorities, who could take the unprecedented step of suspending the self-government of Catalonia and taking over some or all powers in the region.
Sr Puigdemont himself could end up in prison.
Some 2.3 million Catalans – 43% of the electorate in the north-eastern region – voted in the October 1 independence referendum, which the Spanish government said was illegal.
Regional authorities say 90% who voted were in favour and declared the results of the vote valid.
The ballot was marred by violence as riot police tasked with stopping the voting clashed with voters, leaving hundreds injured.
The political deadlock has plunged the country into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
In the streets of Barcelona, expectations were divided between those who want to see the birth of a new nation and others opposed to the idea. Some feared a drastic backlash from the Spanish central authorities.
The Catalan parliament’s governing board acknowledged on Tuesday morning it had received the results in last week’s disputed independence referendum, but a parliamentary official said the board refrained from putting the results through normal parliamentary procedures to elude any legal problems, because the referendum and its legal framework have been suspended by the national Constitutional Court.
Hundreds of thousands have turned out for street protests in Barcelona and other towns in the past month to back Catalan independence and protest against police violence during the vote. Those committed to national unity have also staged separate, large-scale rallies.
The tension has impacted the economy, with dozens of companies already relocating their corporate address away from the troubled region to remain under Spanish and European laws if Catalonia manages to secede.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti