Spanish, Catalan leaders meet to breach gap over secession


MADRID: The new heads of Spain’s central and Catalonia’s regional governments held talks Monday for the first time since yearnings for independence in the northeastern region led to an unprecedented political crisis last year.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed Catalan President Quim Torra in the Moncloa Palace, the seat of the national government in Madrid.

Torra has proposed a legal referendum on Catalonia’s independence as the only way out of the political deadlock, and is expected to seek Sanchez’s authorization to hold it.

“Until we can vote, and vote in a referendum that is legal, binding and has been recognized by both parties as valid, then it is possible that we will never find a solution,” he told The Associated Press during an interview last month.

But Sanchez’s government has said self-determination is not allowed under Spain’s 1978 constitution.

Still, the central government has “great expectations” on the meeting, Cabinet spokeswoman and Education Minister Isabel Celaa said last week.

“We are bringing strength, hope and firmness to the meeting, and we expect reciprocity,” said Celaa, who is also the new socialist government’s Education Minister.

Sanchez is expected to offer to unblock regional legislation on social issues and to promise infrastructure and other investments unrealized by the previous conservative administration.

Torra’s predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, skipped the court summons and fled to Brussels. He’s now living in Hamburg, Germany, where he’s fighting extradition to Spain.

Polls and recent elections show that the 7.5 million residents of the wealthy region are roughly split down the middle over the question of independence.