Pro-unity demonstrators rally in Barcelona as tensions rise

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BARCELONA, SPAIN (OCTOBER 5, 2017) (REUTERS) – Tens of thousands of people called for unity of Spain on Sunday (October 8) in the Catalan capital Barcelona as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not rule out using the constitutional powers to remove Catalonia’s autonomous status if it claimed independence as tens of thousands took to the streets to call for talks.

The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, held a referendum on Oct. 1 on independence, in defiance of the Spanish constitutional court which had ruled the vote illegal.

Until now, Rajoy has remained vague on whether he would use article 155, the so-called nuclear option, of the constitution which enables him to sack the regional government and call a fresh local election. ‘

The Catalan authorities say around 90 percent of those who voted supported a split from Spain. Madrid says secession is illegal under the Spain’s 1978 constitution. Residents of Catalonia who oppose secession largely boycotted the vote.

The crisis is a political test for Rajoy, who has been uncompromising. Some 900 people were injured during the vote when police tried to disrupt voting, firing rubber bullets and charging crowds with truncheons.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

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