October 27, 2018 / 2:07 PM / 24 days ago

Catalan leader defiant a year after failed independence declaration

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalan separatists marked the first anniversary of a failed independence declaration on Saturday with protests and vows to press ahead with their efforts to split from Spain.

Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia after it declared independence following a referendum. Elections later returned a regional government favouring secession though a party supporting union with Spain won most votes.

As separatist leaders jailed for their role in last year’s attempt to split from Spain go to trial, Catalan leader Quim Torra demanded their acquittal on Saturday and said independence efforts would continue.

“Turning back is not an option,” Torra said in a televised address, adding that he “won’t accept any sentence other than a full acquittal.”

“If there’s a conviction, we’ll face it with the determination of Oct. 1 and the strength and solidarity of Oct. 3,” Torra said, referring to the date of last year’s referendum and a general strike held two days later.

Protest rallies were due to take place later on Saturday in towns and cities across the region.

Catalans in the referendum voted overwhelmingly for independence with those opposed to independence largely boycotting the vote.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Opinion polls show that the region is split roughly in half between those who support secession and those favouring remaining part of Spain.

Despite continued friction between Barcelona and Madrid, tensions have dropped considerably since last year.

In a sign of frustration at the lack of progress towards secession, members of one pro-independence civil society group submitted a petition on Saturday calling for the Catalan parliament and regional government to publish the declaration of the Catalan republic in the official Catalan bulletin.

Reporting by Sam Edwards; Editing by Helen Popper

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