Catalan Leader Says Region Has Earned Independence, but Calls for Talks With Madrid
Mr. Puigdemont, however, left open the possibility for dialogue, while defending the decision to hold the referendum backing independence.
“We are here because on Sunday, Oct. 1, Catalonia held a referendum and did so in extreme conditions,” he said. “There were violent police attacks against voters who were just waiting to deposit their ballot paper. More than 800 people were treated by medical services and the world saw it.”
He added: “The Spanish state didn’t just want to confiscate ballot boxes and ballot papers. The main goal was to scare the people and force them to stay at home. But despite all these efforts, more than 2.2 million people voted because they overcame fear.”
Mr. Puigdemont said that the region had asked 18 times for permission to hold a vote on autonomy. “All we wanted was a Scottish-style referendum where both sides were able to put their views forward,” he said. “We were denied, time and time again.”
Switching from Catalan to Spanish, he added: “We are not criminals, madmen or coup plotters — just ordinary people who simply want to vote. We have nothing against the Spaniards.”
Hard-line separatists had hoped Mr. Puigdemont (pronounced POOTCH-da-mon) would follow through on the results of the highly disputed referendum. To pressure Mr. Puigdemont into sticking to his promise, the main separatist associations had called for a citizens’ rally near the Parliament building to push the Catalan political leadership to stick to the independence pledge.
Lawmakers from Mr. Puigdemont’s conservative party, however, were wary about further escalating tensions with Madrid, especially after several prominent companies announced plans to move their headquarters from Catalonia because of legal uncertainties of a secession.