Catalonia 'Could Break Away in 18 Months' - President
Catalan government head Artur Mas has voiced his intention to call early elections as a step toward gaining independence from Spain.
Mas told a 3000-strong multitude at a conference in Barcelona he believed this was "the only instrument" allowing Catalans to decide on their future as a nation, Spanish daily El Pa?s quotes him as saying.
He added this required the presence of certain conditions and the willingness of both political parties and non-profits to transform themselves into a de-facto "independence referendum".
In his words, pro-independence parties can run in the elections by merging their lists, a move that could give a pro-Catalan government the opportunity to "found a state" of its own within eighteen months. Within that time, Barcelona should engage in dialogue with international institutions and begin setting up state structures, a process which could be brought to an end "by end-2016".
He was explicit that he did not wish to top a unity list if it is formed.
During the event Mas pointed to the need of early elections as a "substitute" to the local referendum on independence which the Constitutional Court of Spain declared illegal this autumn.
But Catalonia's President refused to be more specific about a date to hold a snap general poll, underlining his intention to bring it forward only if there is broader political will for independence.
Mas was applauded by delegates at the conference and his speech was frequently interrupted by voices from the multitude chanting "independence."
Barcelona has long demanded the right to hold a Scotland-style referendum and to be granted more rights (including to manage its own revenues) through a constitutional reform. At the same time Mas has often voiced his doubts as to whether Madrid will be willing to carry them out.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy slammed Catalonia's regional authority as an "anti-government" and said the independence plan tabled by Mas "is leading nowhere".
Catalonia's President is going "against what is happening in the world", La Vanguardia quoted Rajoy as explaining, referring to the processes of integration. The Prime Minister added forcing people to choose "between being Catalans or Spaniards" "makes no sense" and "is against freedom and rights."
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