Catalan leader revives campaign to split from Spain

Catalan leader Quim Torra has relaunched a campaign to split his region from Spain, rebuffing an offer from the central government in Madrid for a referendum on greater autonomy that would fall well short of independence.

Quim Torra rebuffs offer from Spanish government for referendum on greater autonomy, but not independence

Catalan leader Quim Torra gives a speech at Catalonia's National Theatre in Barcelona, Tuesday, rebuffing an offer from Spain's prime minister for a referendum on greater autonomy bu not independence. (Albert Gea/Reuters)

Catalan leader Quim Torra relaunched a campaign to split his region from Spain on Tuesday, rebuffing an offer from the central government in Madrid for a referendum on greater autonomy that would fall well short of independence.

Torra set out his separatist road map at a lecture entitled "Our Moment" on Tuesday evening, almost five months after he was elected as regional head to replace Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels last year after Madrid removed him from office.

Spain's new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has taken a softer line toward Catalonia since taking over from Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, in June. But he ruled out a vote on independence after a banned and chaotic referendum last Oct. 1.

A majority voted for independence in that ballot but turnout was low, as opponents did not show up for the vote that Spain said was illegal. Puigdemont declared independence, prompting Madrid to take over direct rule.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, seen at the European Maritime Safety Agency headquarters in Lisbon July 27, has taken a softer stance on Catalonia than his predecessor. (Armando Franca/Associated Press)

Torra insisted he wanted another vote, but said this time it must be approved by the state.

"The Oct. 1 mandate is in force and we are working to bring it into effect," he said, but added that "only an agreed, binding and internationally recognized referendum on self-determination can renew that mandate."

We will always listen to everyone, but we will never renounce our right to self-determination- Quim   Torra , Catalan leader

Secessionist ambitions in Catalonia, which accounts for around a fifth of the country's economy and is home to Spain's second-biggest city Barcelona, are one of the thorniest issues facing Sanchez.

Rajoy imposed direct rule on the basis of Spain's constitution, which states that the country is indivisible.

Sanchez proposed on Monday a referendum on greater Catalan autonomy, but he has firmly ruled out any referendum on independence or any unilateral attempt by Catalonia to secede.

Torra said Sanchez's proposal was "interesting" but called for negotiation on topics including the detention of separatist politicians who are still in jail on charges of rebellion for their part in organizing the illegal referendum.

"We will always listen to everyone, but we will never renounce our right to self-determination," Torra said.

The jailed separatists' trials could start as early as October, further ratcheting up tension as Sanchez seeks a compromise with Barcelona.

The prime minister met Torra in Madrid in July, moved the prisoners closer to home, and lifted financial controls on the region in an attempt to repair relations with Barcelona.

He also hopes to convince Catalan separatists parties to back his national budget further down the road and avoid a potential snap election next spring.