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Spanish government, Catalan leaders meet in fresh talks

Spain’s deputy prime minister met Catalan separatist leaders Thursday as both sides pursue complex talks on the region’s future initiated by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Despite mutual distrust and radically opposed positions on Catalonia’s right to self-determination, the Socialist executive and the regional government continue to meet to try to re-build ties broken in a secession attempt in October 2017.

Carmen Calvo met in Madrid with the Catalan government’s vice president Pere Aragones and spokeswoman Elsa Artadi.

Afterwards, a short joint statement declared they had broached the possibility “of establishing two differentiated dialogue spaces — one between governments… and another between (Catalan) parties,” adding the exact parameters are still to be determined.

The meeting comes close to a month after Sanchez, who took office last June, met with regional leader Quim Torra on December 20 in Barcelona.

On that occasion they agreed to maintain “an effective dialogue which will lead to a political proposal which has widespread support among Catalan society.”

Thursday’s meeting comes as Spain’s minority government wants to pass its 2019 draft budget through parliament, where it only has 84 lawmakers out of 350.

As a result, it needs the support of Catalan separatist lawmakers who in return are asking for a solution to the crisis gripping the region since a banned secession referendum in 2017 prompted a short-lived declaration of independence.

After that, Catalan leaders were either arrested or fled abroad.

Those who were held are due to stand trial at the end of the month or early February in what could put ties between Madrid and the Catalan government to the test.

Pro-independence leaders in Catalonia are also angry over the detention Wednesday of 13 activists and separatist mayors, as well as one journalist, for cutting off a high-speed rail line on the anniversary of the independence referendum on October 1, 2018.

The Catalan government has announced it will “file a complaint against the police actions,” saying the detentions are illegal as they were not ordered by a court.

“There is little likelihood that the draft budget will go through,” Artadi warned on Tuesday.

Sanchez took office in June after winning a surprise vote of no-confidence against the previous conservative government with the support of Catalan separatist parties.

He has adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Catalonia than his conservative predecessor, but there is little progress over the region’s desire for self-determination.