Hardline separatist sworn in as Catalonia's new leader

Fervent Catalan secessionist Quim Torra has been sworn in as the restive Spanish region's new leader, with his demands for an independent Catalonia set to prolong a standoff with Spain's national government.

In sign of simmering tensions, Madrid declines to send representative to attend ceremony

Quim Torra, right, is greeted by regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent after taking his oath as new Catalan regional president during a ceremony at Generalitat Palace in Barcelona on Thursday. (Alberto Estevez via Reuters)

Fervent Catalan secessionist Quim Torra was sworn in Thursday as the restive Spanish region's new leader, with his demands for an independent Catalonia set to prolong a standoff with Spain's national government.

Torra formally took office at a ceremony in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. He was elected by the Catalan parliament's secessionist lawmakers on Monday.

In a sign of the simmering tension, Spain's national government in Madrid, which usually sends a representative to regional government ceremonies, declined to attend the swearing-in. It said Catalan authorities had tried to dictate which central government officials could be present — a condition that Madrid rejected.

The spat over Catalonia's future has brought Spain's worst political crisis in decades, though its three main political parties stand united against Catalan independence.

No Spanish flag

Thursday's ceremony was heavy on symbolism, with pointed signals apparently aimed at the central Spanish authorities.

Torra had only the red-and-yellow Catalan flag behind him during the ceremony. The Spanish flag was absent.

Also, in his oath he pledged only to be faithful to the people of Catalonia. He made no reference to upholding the Spanish Constitution nor loyalty to Spain's king. The Spanish government says it cannot grant Catalonia independence, among other reasons, because the Constitution says Spain is "indivisible." King Felipe VI has publicly supported the government's stance.

Torra also wore a yellow ribbon in his lapel, symbolizing support for separatist leaders being held in Spanish jails over last year's outlawed independence referendum and illegal declaration of a separate Catalan state.