By Sonya Dowsett
MADRID, Sept 4 – Catalan leader Quim Torra will relaunch on Tuesday his region’s campaign to split from Spain, rebuffing an offer from the central government in Madrid for a referendum on greater autonomy that would fall well short of independence.
Torra, who is due to set out his separatist roadmap at a lecture entitled “Our Moment” on Tuesday evening, was sworn in as regional head in May, replacing Carles Puigdemont who fled to Brussels last year after Madrid removed him from office.
Spain’s new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has taken a softer line towards Catalonia since taking over from Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, in June, but Torra has shown no sign of shelving his demand for a vote on full independence.
“I will take it to the end,” Torra said in a television interview on Monday. “I will take it as far as the Catalan parliament wants me to go.”
His lecture comes one week ahead of the Catalan national day, the ‘Diada’, which traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of separatists onto the streets. Torra has called for a big turn-out this year to show continued support for Catalan secession.
Sanchez proposed on Monday a referendum on greater Catalan autonomy, but he has firmly ruled out any referendum on independence or any unilateral attempt by Catalonia to secede.
The prime minister met Torra in Madrid in July, moved Catalan separatist prisoners closer to home and lifted financial controls on the region in an attempt to repair relations with Barcelona.
He also hopes to convince Catalan separatists parties to back his national budget further down the road and avoid a potential snap election next spring.
However, the pro-independence speaker of the Catalan parliament on Tuesday dismissed Sanchez’s offer of a vote on greater autonomy.
“A referendum on self-determination is what the majority of the Catalan people wants and that is what we must attend to,” said speaker Roger Torrent in a radio interview.
A Catalan government source said Torra would demand a new referendum on independence in his speech on Tuesday.
Catalonia unilaterally declared independence last year after a banned and chaotic Oct. 1 referendum on secession from Spain, prompting then-premier Rajoy to impose direct rule from Madrid.
Spain’s constitution states that the country is indivisible and courts ruled the October vote was illegal.
Sanchez’s Socialists backed the imposition of direct rule but lifted it in June after Torra was elected leader. But they have said they are ready to re-impose direct rule if the new regional administration disobeys national laws.
Nine Catalan politicians and activists are in pre-trial detention on charges of rebellion for their part in organising the illegal referendum one year ago.
Their trials could start as early as October, further fanning tensions as Sanchez seeks a compromise with Barcelona. (Editing by Julien Toyer and Gareth Jones)