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AP Explains: Catalan conundrum 1 year after contentious vote

MADRID (AP) — An unauthorized secession vote in Catalonia last year posed a traumatic challenge to Spain’s four-decade old democracy and deepened the divide between those for and against independence in the northeastern region.

One year later, nine separatist leaders remain jailed while awaiting trial, others have fled the country and new players in Barcelona and Madrid have begun a cautious dialogue while a confrontational rhetoric persists.

This is a look at events leading to the controversial vote on Oct. 1, 2017, and the year after it:

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A DATE CHARGED WITH SYMBOLISM

Frustration with the national government and separatist sentiment were growing in Catalonia last year before the region’s pro-secession officials moved forward with the referendum despite court rulings declaring a vote would be illegal.

Independence supporters said the outcome of the vote was a victory even if the results were invalid, pointing to the large backing for secession among the 2 million Catalans who voted despite violent moves by police officers seeking to stop the balloting.

The opposition and an increasingly vocal unionist movement that emerged ahead of the referendum boycotted the referendum.

Following weeks of escalating tension between Catalonia and the government in Madrid, regional lawmakers made a short-lived declaration to establish a Catalan republic. The Spanish government responded by taking control of the region’s administration and called a regional election that separatist politicians won.

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WHAT WERE THE CONSEQUENCES?

Even as the push for independence continues to shape national politics, Catalonia has remained part of Spain, much to the dismay of one side and comfort of the other.

A July survey by the Catalan official polling institute showed that 46.7 percent of Catalans support independence while 44.9 percent oppose it, a division more or less consistent from recent years.

After the December election in Catalonia, Quim Torra became the region’s president in a government heavily influenced by his predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, who has managed to fight off extradition from Belgium and Germany.

Torra is expected to meet a second time this fall with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the Socialist leader who inherited the Catalan crisis from a conservative predecessor he ousted through a motion of no confidence.

Sanchez has struck a more open tone in negotiations with the separatists. But he can take few risks or offer decisive solutions given his weak minority government.

Observers fear the hesitant steps toward reconciliation could derail over two issues: the status of imprisoned separatist leaders and the still-unresolved matter of the region’s future, with or without Spain.

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WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES?

Significant breakthroughs are not expected while the nine Catalan politicians and activists charged in connection with last year’s independence push remain in custody. Sanchez had them transferred to prisons in Catalonia as a gesture of goodwill, but says he won’t meddle in the judicial process.

No dates have been set for the first hearings in their trial.

The question of Catalonia’s self-determination also remains unresolved. Separatists want another independence referendum, this time a valid one sanctioned by the state. The central government instead talks about a national vote on new self-governance rules for Catalonia, while offering to amend the constitution to establish a federal state that would look more like the system in Germany.

Complicating the negotiations with Madrid are fractures within the independence movement itself. While some want to further challenge the status quo, even push for a unilateral breakaway, the so-called pragmatists seek to widen support for secession in the region before making another push.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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