Catalan vote sparks political battles in Spain
Catalan separatists and their rivals sketched their battle plans Monday after the independence movement claimed victory in a divisive vote, plunging Spain into political uncertainty ahead of national elections.
Groups that want to break Spain's richest region away as a new state in Europe won control of the Catalan parliament in Sunday's polls but won fewer than half the votes overall.
Opponents of secession said the result was a clear vote against independence and some called on regional president Artur Mas to resign.
But Mas hailed it as a victory and celebrated, swigging sparkling wine in front of a cheering crowd to the sound of disco music.
Observers agreed the result left Spain in a complicated situation as it prepares for December's general elections.
The conservative government is seeking to cement the recovery of the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy from an economic crisis.
Mas's Together for Yes independence alliance and the smaller CUP, a radical left-wing group, won enough seats between them to control the parliament if they team up.
Both groups were due to make announcements early Monday afternoon, to offer a glimpse of how they may seal a pact to push for independence.
Spanish media were divided over whether the separatists had won or lost.
"The Yes takes control," said the conservative Catalan daily La Vanguardia.
Centre-right Madrid daily El Mundo however stressed that "the majority of Catalans say no to independence."
Spain's top-selling daily El Pais said they had "won the election but lost the plebiscite".
- Tough talks ahead -
Mas's alliance faces tough negotiations to strike an accord with CUP, an anti-capitalist citizens' group that does not want him to lead the separatist movement.
Mas and his allies "must be frightened at the mere prospect of that alliance", El Mundo said in an editorial.
"There is quite considerable confusion," political scientist Pablo Simon told AFP.
"They have used a regional election for a question that should be resolved in a referendum," he said. "The mandate is a bit lame from the start."
The result raised pressure on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has fiercely resisted the drive for secession. He was due to make an address later Monday.
"He must react urgently and offer a route for dialogue," said El Pais.
In its initial reaction to the vote on Sunday night, the PP showed no sign of softening its stance on independence, which it has rejected as illegal.
PP spokesman Pablo Casado, said Mas had "failed" by not winning a majority of votes.
"This election should serve to end the independence debate once and for all," Casado said.
- Political jockeying -
Other parties jostling to oust the PP in December's election staked out their positions, saying the Catalan result supported their calls for political reform.
The main opposition Socialists denounced what their leader Pedro Sanchez called the "intransigence" of the PP against the separatists' demands.
Spain's left-wing protest party Podemos too cast the vote as a defeat for the PP, criticising its combative approach to the region.
The leader of the rising centrist party Ciudadanos Albert Rivera said Monday: "Today begins a programme of reform for Spain."
Together for Yes's lead candidate Raul Romeva pressured Madrid to negotiate, warning that a declaration of independence was inevitable.
"If the state shows no will to negotiate, we will do it anyway, because we have a mandate," Romeva told AFP.
Analyst Pablo Simon said the result "sends a very strong signal to Madrid, telling them they have to put something on the table. Otherwise the situation is going to fester."
© 2015 AFP