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Spain celebrates national day amid Catalan secession crisis


    People walk past a Spanish and an estelada, or independence flag, hanging up for sale in a shop in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday.

MADRID >> Army troops and police are to march today in Madrid as Spain’s celebrates its national day, amid one of the country’s biggest crises as its powerful northeastern region of Catalonia threatens independence.

King Felipe VI, accompanied by national and regional politicians, will preside over the colorful annual parade as Spain awaits a response to a government request to Catalonia’s leader to clarify by Monday if he has already declared independence — in which case Spain warns it may apply Article 155 of its Constitution and begin taking direct control of the region.

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont announced Tuesday that he was using the claimed victory in a banned Oct. 1 secession referendum to proceed with a declaration of Catalan independence, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for dialogue and mediation with the national government in Madrid.

Speaking in the national parliament Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Puigdemont’s response to the ultimatum would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days.”

In a tweet later, Puigdemont said, “We demand dialogue and the response is to put article 155 on the table. Message understood.”

Puigdemont’s deputy, Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, also tweeted: “A sincere dialogue is what the international community wants and what Catalonia expects, not confrontation and new threats.”

Today’s holiday is known as Dia de la Hispanidad, or Hispanic Day. It commemorates Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World and is also Spain’s armed forces day

Regional leaders are invited to attend the parade but for many years officials from the Basque and Catalan regions, where independence sentiment runs high, have boycotted it.

Several town halls in Catalonia have said they will ignore the holiday and work as normal.

About 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the region’s electorate — voted in the independence referendum. Catalonia said 90 percent favored secession and it declared the results valid. Opponents boycotted the vote.

The day was marred by violence as police under court orders tried to prevent voting taking place.

Polls indicate that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are evenly divided over secession. The region contributes a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.3 trillion) economy.

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