BARCELONA/MADRID • Spain apologised for a violent police crackdown on Catalonia's independence referendum, in a conciliatory gesture as both sides looked for a way out of the nation's worst political crisis since it became a democracy four decades ago.
Spain's representative in north-east Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, made the apology just as Catalonia's secessionist leader appeared to inch away from a plan to declare independence as early as Monday.
"When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalised, I can't help but regret it and apologise on behalf of the officers that intervened," Mr Enric Millo said in a television interview yesterday.
The Spanish police used batons and rubber bullets to stop people voting in Sunday's referendum, which Madrid had banned as unconstitutional. The scenes brought worldwide condemnation and fanned separatist feeling but failed to prevent what the Catalan government described as an overwhelming "yes" vote.
Moments earlier, a Catalan Parliament spokesman said the regional government's leader, Mr Carles Puigdemont, had asked to address lawmakers on the "political situation" on Tuesday, in timing that appeared at odds with earlier plans to move an independence motion on Monday. The softer tone also contrasted with remarks earlier yesterday from Catalonia's head of foreign affairs, who told BBC radio it would go ahead with an independence debate in the regional Parliament.
PAINFUL TO SEE
When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalised, I can't help but regret it and apologise on behalf of the officers that intervened.
MR ENRIC MILLO, Spain's representative in Catalonia, on the police brutality during the vote.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has offered all-party political talks to find a solution, opening the door to a deal giving Catalonia more autonomy. But he has ruled out independence and rejected a Catalan proposal for international mediation.
The stakes are high for the euro zone's fourth-largest economy.
Catalonia is the source of a huge chunk of its tax revenue and hosts multinationals from carmaker Volkswagen to drugs firm AstraZeneca.
Secession could also fuel separatist-nationalist divisions across the rest of Spain, which only this year saw ETA guerillas in the northern Basque region lay down their arms after a campaign lasting almost half a century.
Spanish ruling-party lawmakers say Mr Rajoy is considering invoking the Constitution to dissolve the regional Parliament and force fresh Catalan elections if the region's government goes ahead with an independence declaration.
The Catalan government's head of foreign affairs, Mr Raul Romeva, told the BBC the crisis could only be resolved with politics, not via judicial means. His remarks hit Spanish stocks and bonds, including shares in the region's two largest banks.
Sabadell decided on Thursday to move its legal base to Alicante. CaixaBank, Spain's third-largest lender, was to consider yesterday whether to also transfer its legal base away from Catalonia, a source said.
In addition, the central government yesterday passed a law to make it easier for companies to move their operations around the country, potentially dealing a blow to the region's finances.
Meanwhile Catalonia's police chief, Mr Josep Lluis Trapero, and prominent separatist leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez avoided being remanded in custody at a court hearing on Thursday over sedition accusations linked to the region's independence bid, a court source said.
A court official told Agence France-Presse the judge had ordered no custody or other cautionary measures against them pending investigation into the accusations.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE