Jittery Spanish govt awaits Catalan independence outcome

WORST CRISIS: At stake is the future of 7.5m people deeply divided over independence –

Barcelona: Spain held its breath Tuesday ahead of a crucial Catalan parliamentary session, waiting to see if regional leader Carles Puigdemont would defy Europe-wide pleas for unity and follow through on his threat of declaring independence from Madrid.
But just as regional lawmakers started making their way into the parliament in Barcelona, the 54-year-old leader delayed the start of the session. A regional government official said that the delay was to allow time to explore “contacts for international mediation” in the crisis.
But Madrid immediately responded by saying mediation to settle the nation’s worst political crisis in decades was “not on the cards”.
Police deployed en masse around the regional parliament, blocking public access to a park that houses the building as crowds watched the session on giant screens, waving Catalan flags and some brandishing signs reading “democracy.”
In Madrid, the Spanish government issued a blunt warning to Puigdemont. “We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.
A source from the central government’s representative office in Catalonia said security had been tightened at Catalan airports and railway stations in anticipation of possible protests in the wake of Puigdemont’s announcement.
EU President Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.
At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union.