Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said regional elections next month in Catalonia will help end “separatist havoc” in the northeastern region.
He addressed a campaign event on Sunday on his first visit there since imposing direct rule on the region a fortnight ago, BBC reported.
Defending his decision in Barcelona, he said he had “exhausted all roads” after the Catalan government’s unilateral declaration of independence last month.
Several key Catalan leaders are currently being detained over the move.
The crisis was sparked by a disputed referendum held in Catalonia in October, which had been declared illegal by the Spanish courts.
Catalan officials said the independence campaign won 92 per cent of the vote, from a turnout of 43 per cent.
Many of those who were against independence did not cast votes, refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the referendum.
The Catalan government subsequently declared independence. In response, the Spanish government dissolved the region’s parliament, imposed direct rule and called a snap regional election on December 21.
Speaking at a campaign event in Barcelona for his Popular Party (PP) on Sunday, Rajoy called on the participation of the “silent majority” to “convert their voice into a vote”.
“We must reclaim Catalonia from the havoc of separatism,” he added, saying: “With democracy, we want to reclaim Catalonia for everyone.”
He told PP supporters that the right result would boost Spain’s economic growth next year to above 3 per cent.
He called on companies not to leave the region, after hundreds of firms moved their headquarters away amid uncertainty over the region – which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.
He also urged people in Spain to continue buying Catalan products.
For a short while, the man who ultimately runs Catalonia was in Catalonia. But Mariano Rajoy’s advisors made sure he would not run into vocal pro-independence opponents.
Instead, he spoke to the party faithful. Rajoy’s main campaign event was held inside a hotel ballroom, in front of mostly older supporters.
Spain’s prime minister came here in order to win the regional Catalan election he’s called for December 21. His People’s Party doesn’t command widespread support in this region.
But the pro-Spain movement as a whole makes up about half the population of Catalonia. An election victory for this sector would make it much harder for pro-independence forces to make another attempt to break away from Spain.
After speaking for 25 minutes, Rajoy posed for pictures and made his way out of the hotel amid a crush of supporters.
“Will you meet your opponents?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said. But he didn’t say where or when.
Since the crackdown by Madrid, Catalonia’s sacked President Carles Puigdemont has gone into self-imposed exile in Belgium, and many of his top allies have been remanded in custody.