Catalonia's president considers date for independence declaration

Catalonia's regional government is considering when it will declare independence from Spain in the wake of a disputed referendum which triggered Spain's worst national crisis in decades.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who has said an independence declaration will come within a few days, is due to deliver a speech later today.

Spain, which declared Sunday's referendum illegal and invalid, is bitterly opposed to any independence move.

The conservative central government under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said it will respond with "all necessary measures" to counter Catalan defiance, and is holding talks with opposition leaders to forge a consensus over what to do in response.

What might happen if the north-eastern region does actually try to secede is anyone's guess.

Spain could intervene to take over the regional government, or it could even declare a state of emergency and impose martial law.

In a special national address last night, Spain's King Felipe VI came out strongly against the actions of Catalan authorities, arguing that they had deliberately bent the law with "irresponsible conduct".

The Spanish state, he went on, needed to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia, which is the richest region of Spain, counting Barcelona as its capital.

Catalonia said some 2.3 million people - less than half the region's electorate - voted in the referendum.

Many of those opposed to independence are thought to have stayed at home after the referendum was deemed illegal by Spanish courts. Of those who voted, some 90% voted yes to independence.

Going down the independence route will not be easy for Catalonia. The region does not have any powers over defence, foreign affairs, taxes, ports or airports, all of which are in the hands of the Madrid government.

The crisis in Spain grew more acute on Sunday when some 900 people were treated in hospital following clashes with police who were ordered to prevent to the vote.

On Tuesday, huge crowds held street protests and unions staged a strike in Catalonia to protest against the alleged police brutality. There were no reports of trouble.

Meanwhile, Spain's National Court said it will quiz two senior officers of Catalonia's regional police force and the leaders of two pro-Catalan independence civic groups who have been placed under investigation for sedition.

The court said the four will be questioned on Friday about their roles in demonstrations on September 20-21 in Barcelona when Spanish police arrested several Catalan government officials and raided offices in a crackdown on preparations for the referendum.

Spanish authorities said the demonstrations hindered the police operation.

During the rallies, there were some disturbances and two police vehicles were damaged.

The four include regional police chief officer Josep Lluis Trapero and Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, the main civic group behind the independence movement.

European leaders have broadly sided with Spain on the matter, even when calling for dialogue to resolve tensions.

European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans urged a negotiated end to the political deadlock, but said there is a "general consensus that regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law when organising the referendum".

The top politician in Catalonia of Spain's governing party, Xavier Garcia Albiol, has called for Catalans who want to stay inside Spain to join a rally Sunday in Barcelona.

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