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Tension in Catalonia ahead of independence declaration

BARCELONA

Catalan police tightened their guard on the region’s parliament on Tuesday where secessionists have threatened to adopt a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain despite warnings from Madrid of swift counter-measures.

Regional leader Carles Puigdemont held a meeting of his cabinet to decide how to press an independence drive that has stirred powerful emotions across Spain and raised concern in European Union partner states.

Catalan police armed with automatic rifles stood guard at Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella which houses the elegant 18th century building. Spanish national police, decried by separatists over their use of force to hinder an Oct. 1 referendum, were not to be seen.

A declaration of independence would deepen Spain’s biggest political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981 and would almost certainly draw tough counter-measures from Madrid, possibly including suspension of the regional government.

The parliament and other buildings, such as the regional high court building, could become a focus of contention between Spanish and Catalan authorities.

Thousands of national police reinforcements sent by Madrid for the referendum remain in the area, many of them in two cruise ships docked in Barcelona harbour.

Pro-independence demonstrators were due to gather before the parliament building under the slogan “Hello Republic” to mark Puigdemont’s speech at 6pm (1600 GMT).

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Barcelona against independence at the weekend, waving Spanish flags through the city centre. That rally fell a week after some 900 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and stormed crowds with truncheons to disrupt a referendum ruled illegal in Madrid.

Puigdemont has said he is determined to apply a law passed by the Catalan assembly.

Reuters