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Spanish PM in Catalonia in a bid to ease tensions over independence

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is meeting Catalan pro-independence groups in an attempt to ease tensions.

It includes sitting down with regional president Pere Aragonès at the seat of the Catalan government in downtown Barcelona.

Expectations are low for any huge advances from the meeting which has caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Republican Left of Catalonia party call the talks a “historic opportunity.”

But leaders of the junior party in Aragonès’ government have publicly voiced their doubts about the chances that there will be any real gains for the separatists. The influential grassroots group National Catalan Assembly goes further, saying that the talks will only serve to derail their cause.

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The talks come with 7.5 million Catalans entrenched into two roughly equal camps. Polls and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to remain in Spain, while the other half wants to sever all ties.

“I have always defended dialogue… the need to open a new chapter,” said the Spanish PM.

Spain has said that any vote on Catalonia’s future would have to be on a proposal to improve the relationship of the northeast region with the rest of Spain.

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While Sánchez has pledged to improve relations with Catalonia since he came to power in 2018, he has always stated that an independence referendum is “contrary to the Constitution”.

Spain was rocked by Catalonia’s push for independence in 2017.

Despite a court ban, the regional government of Carles Puigdemont held a referendum and later declared independence.

Madrid — who considered the vote illegal — responded by detaining the main leaders of the movement, and nine were subsequently jailed for their role in 2019.

In June, the imprisoned pro-independence leaders were pardoned by Sánchez’s government, in an effort to further improve relations.

Catalonia’s current president Pere Aragonès has indicated that he would urge Sánchez on Wednesday to accept a referendum on the region’s independence.

The leader of Catalonia had announced that he was excluding a separatist party in his ruling regional coalition from the talks with the central government.

Together for Catalonia (JxCat) had proposed to send two of its members, who had served prison sentences for their role in the secession bid.

But Aragonès said the meeting was between the governments of Spain and Catalonia and not representatives of political parties.

JxCat has taken a more radical approach of confronting Spain’s central government, relations between Madrid and Barcelona have eased under Aragonès.

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Catalonia is also hoping to obtain economic gains from talks with Sanchez’s left-wing coalition while still pushing for independence.

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