Thousands March Against Catalonia's Independence as Tensions Rise

Protesters perform Nazi salutes during rallies over Catalan independence

But Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence anyway.

Pressure mounted on Monday against Catalan vows to break away from Spain after hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied to defend national unity, but the region's leader maintained his threat to formally declare independence possibly within days.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the regional parliament on Tuesday and the Madrid government is anxious it will vote for a unilateral declaration of independence.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said earlier that it was "not for me to say whether Catalonia should be independent".

A week on from a referendum on independence which the government did its utmost to thwart, more signs were emerging that the fraught situation was also taking its toll on the business climate of Spain's wealthiest region.

Spain lurched into its worst political crisis in decades after Catalonia held a vote on independence on October 1 in defiance of the Spanish government and courts. But only 43 percent of the region's 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was overshadowed by police raids of polling stations on orders to confiscate ballot boxes. Videos of police pulling voters out by their hair and kicking them on stairs flashed around the world.

On social media, people could be seen booing Catalan police, whose chief is suspected of collusion with separatists.

The vote was not held according to official electoral standards as there were no regular voter lists, electoral commission or observers.

The Spanish province of Catalonia, which provides 19 percent of Spain's gross domestic product, is expected to declare some form of independence, despite vehement opposition from the Spanish government. No one seems eager to recognize Catalonia, including the European Union.

With Catalonia, which is now part of a country of the European Union, "while it would be less hard (...) because there would already be a regulatory convergence", observes a diplomat in Brussels.

But protesters have also marched in favor of independence since the October 1 vote, claiming that the Catalans have a distinct culture from the rest of Spain and that they contribute more to the economy than the other regions.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of residents have thronged onto the streets every September 11, a Catalan holiday, to demand independence.

She stressed her support for Spain's unity but also encouraged more dialogue.

Spanish stocks had kicked off the week with gains, extending the bounce that began the week before, on hopes that the Catalan nationalist parties might back down, given what appeared to be divisions among them.

"What is happening in Catalonia is real, whether they like it or not".

And it calls upon the Spanish government to "respect the overwhelming "si" vote won in the Catalan referendum as an expression of the democratic will of the people of Catalonia" and urges the UN, EU and Council of Europe to mediate.

Rajoy said that includes the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow the central government to take control of the governance of a region "if the regional government does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution".

A split raises dozens of questions with no answers yet.

It would deprive Spain of about 16 per cent of its people, a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of its exports.

France, which borders Catalonia, said on Monday it would not recognise a unilateral declaration of independence. To get back in, it would have to re-apply - a lengthy and uncertain process.

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