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Catalonia's leader: Independence declaration within days

Published: Updated:

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont told the BBC that the region will declare independence in a matter of days in response to Spain’s King Felipe VI speech on Tuesday night, as thousands took to the streets to protest against a violent police crackdown.

King Feipe accused Catalan secessionist leaders who staged a banned independence referendum of shattering democratic principles and dividing Catalan society.

He said that he was committed to the unity of Spain and added that the “irresponsible behavior” of the Catalan leaders had undermined social harmony in Catalonia. “Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said.

Puigdemont said that his government would "act at the end of this week or the beginning of next", in his interview with the BBC.

When asked by the BBC what Puigdemont would do if the Spanish government were to intervene and take control of Catalonia's government, he said it would be "an error which changes everything".

The regional leader opened the door to a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain on Sunday after voters defied a violent police crackdown and, according to regional officials, voted 90 percent in favor of breaking away.

Tens of thousands of Catalans demonstrated in the streets of the northeastern region against action by the police, who tried to disrupt Sunday’s vote by firing rubber bullets and charging into crowds with truncheons.

Tuesday’s protests shut down road traffic, public transport and businesses.

The referendum and its aftermath have plunged Spain into its worst constitutional crisis in decades, and are a political test for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hard line stance on the issue.

Pro-independence parties who control the regional government staged Sunday’s referendum in defiance of the Constitutional Court, which had ruled that the vote violated Spain’s 1978 constitution which states the country is indivisible.

Catalonia, Spain’s richest region, has its own language and culture and a political movement for secession that has strengthened in recent years.

Outside of Catalonia, Spaniards mostly hold strong views against its independence drive. In his televised address, the king said the “irresponsible behavior” of the Catalan leaders had undermined social harmony in the region.

“Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said. “They (the Catalan leaders) have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state.”