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Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to visit Catalonia for regional elections campaign

IANS | Madrid |

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will visit Catalonia on Sunday to begin campaigning for his Popular Party, ahead of the upcoming regional elections in December.

Rajoy is expected to address a meeting of supporters of the conservative party and his visit comes after 750,000 people rallied in Barcelona on Saturday to protest against the detention of ousted Catalan leaders, reports the BBC.

The Catalan government declared independence in October, prompting Rajoy to sack and jail its leaders.

Sunday’s visit will be the Prime Minister’s first to the region since the upheaval which was sparked by a disputed referendum held in Catalonia on October 27, in which the independence campaign won 92 per cent of the vote, from a turnout of 43 per cent.

The Spanish government responded to the referendum by dissolving the Catalan parliament, imposing direct rule, and calling the snap regional elections on December 21.

Since the crackdown by Madrid, Catalonia’s sacked President Carles Puigdemont has gone into self-imposed exile in Belgium, and his top allies have been prosecuted.

A lawyer whose firm represents two of his imprisoned former cabinet ministers told the BBC that their situation had been made worse by Puigdemont’s decision to flee.

Meanwhile, the left-wing ERC party, a key ally of Puigdemont, has announced that some of the prisoners, including party leader Oriol Junqueras, as well as some of the sacked ministers who also went to Belgium, will stand on its electoral list.

A recent opinion poll in Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia suggests that the ERC will win the biggest share of the vote in December.