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Catalan leader to demand independence vote in first meeting with Spain PM

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan head of government Pere Aragones meet for the first time as the central government seeks to improve ties.

Catalan regional president Pere Aragones (R) poses with Catalan separatists (from L) Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Fornand Oriol Junqueras in Barcelona on June 28, 2021.
Catalan regional president Pere Aragones (R) poses with Catalan separatists (from L) Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Fornand Oriol Junqueras in Barcelona on June 28, 2021. (AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will meet Catalonia’s new pro-independence regional head for the first time as the central government has sought to improve ties after pardoning nine jailed separatist leaders.

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The two are likely to discuss a date to resume negotiations on the region’s political conflict on Tuesday.

Catalan head of government Pere Aragones, who took office last month, has said his main requests at the meeting in Madrid will be an official referendum on independence and an amnesty for the more than 3,000 separatists under legal investigation.

Political crisis

An unauthorised referendum on a breakaway in 2017 led to a short-lived declaration of independence and Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Separatist leaders were convicted to lengthy prison terms on a variety of charges.

Sanchez pardoned them last week in what he said was a goodwill gesture to kickstart negotiations on the Catalan issue.

Misuse of public funds?

However, Spain’s Court of Auditors is requesting the return of about $6.41 million (5.4 million euros) from 40 former Catalan officials due to their alleged role in promoting Catalonia’s independence bid abroad, including some pardoned leaders, according to a report published by several newspapers on Tuesday.

The court has not issued any ruling on the potential misuse of public funds by them but its interim request implies that they need to deposit the demanded amount, according to the reports. If they could not do so, their assets would be seized.

A court spokesperson said the report was not public yet as a meeting between court representatives and the officials’ lawyers had not concluded.

Catalan government spokesperson Patricia Plaja criticised the report and urged the Spanish government to act after a top government and Socialist Party official said last week the court’s investigation was an obstacle in the government’s push to foster dialogue with Catalonia.

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