BARCELONA • Separatist leaders in the Spanish region of Catalonia have signalled they may be moving towards a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week, following 90 per cent support from voters in Sunday's referendum declared illegal by Spain's government.
But Catalan President Carles Puigdemont yesterday also called for international mediation in the crisis which has pitted his regional government against the central government in Madrid, "which means there must be the presence of a third party, which must be international to be efficient".
Mr Puigdemont has appealed to the European Union for support as he takes the result of the vote to the regional Parliament this week.
Under its referendum law, Parliament will likely endorse it, which could lead to a declaration of independence within 48 hours of the notification.
"The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state," Mr Puigdemont said.
But he also said he does not plan on an abrupt split with Spain.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was the among the first EU leaders to react to developments in Catalonia, backed the "constitutional unity" of Spain during a call with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy yesterday.
Two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast - a 42.3 per cent turnout - a government spokesman said. Just over five million people were eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes.
Mr Puigdemont's time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Friday, exactly 83 years after his predecessor as regional president Lluis Companys also declared independence. Companys was executed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Mr Rajoy faces Spain's biggest constitutional crisis in decades after the referendum opened the door for its wealthiest region to move for secession. "Today, there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength," Mr Rajoy said on television after polls closed.
Heading a minority government, Mr Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority as allies peel off in the national Parliament and his officials struggle to enforce the law in the rebel region.
While a declaration of independence would have no legal force, and would most likely not be recognised by the international community, it would nevertheless constitute a historic challenge to the authority of the Spanish government and state institutions.
Catalan officials said over 800 people were injured in clashes with the Spanish riot police when hundreds of activists tried to stop officers from shutting down the vote.
Mr Rajoy praised the police for their "calmness" in defending constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes on Sunday morning in an effort to shut down the vote.
CATALANS DESERVE AUTONOMY
The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state.
CATALAN PRESIDENT CARLES PUIGDEMONT, in a televised statement, flanked by members of his regional administration.
In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs. In another, police are seen ripping ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials.
VOTE IS ILLEGAL
Today, there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength.
SPANISH PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY, in a televised address after polls closed.
In Barcelona, riot police charged at demonstrators who were sitting on the ground at a polling station and fired rubber bullets, witnesses said. The trouble caused Barcelona football club to play its La Liga tie against Las Palmas behind closed doors after the Spanish league refused to postpone the match.
"We've proved that our rule of law has the resources to repel an attack on democracy of this magnitude," Mr Rajoy said. "Look for no culprits other than those who organised an illegal act and have broken our common bonds."
Adding to tensions, unions and Catalan associations have called a region-wide strike for today due to "the grave violation of rights and freedoms".
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Catalonia is one of the powerhouses of the Spanish economy, buoyed by industry, research and tourism but burdened with debt.
•Contributing 19 per cent of Spain's gross domestic product (GDP) last year, Catalonia rivals Madrid for the distinction of being the richest region in the country.As in Madrid, unemployment is also lower than in the rest of the country - at 13.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year compared with 17.2 per cent nationally.
•Catalonia is by far Spain's top exporting region, with a quarter of all goods produced there sold abroad last year and in the first quarter of this year.
It attracted some 14 per cent of foreign investment in 2015, in second place after Madrid, with several large companies having their headquarters in Barcelona.
•The agri-food, chemistry and auto sectors are pillars of Catalan industry, which also has a big logistics hub. Oil, food for cattle and grocery products also contribute to the economy.
Last year, the region was the second-biggest car producer in Spain.
•Since the 1990s, Catalonia has invested in research, especially in bioscience, and the sector represents 7 per cent of its GDP.
With many cutting-edge hospitals and research centres, including in the nuclear sector, the region says it is No. 1 in Europe for pharmaceutical companies per capita.
•Catalan universities are among the best in the country: Of the top five Spanish universities in the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, three are Catalan.
Its business schools - Esade and IESE - are well known.
•With its capital Barcelona and Costa Brava beaches, Catalonia is the Spanish region that most attracts foreign tourists, and the trend is on the rise.
It attracted more than 18 million visitors last year, or a quarter of all foreigners who went to Spain.
•Catalonia's debt represents 35.4 per cent of its GDP, making it the third-most indebted region in Spain in the second quarter of this year. At the end of June, its debt stood at €76.7 billion (S$123 billion).