BARCELONA, Spain — The president of Spain's Catalonia region urged his separatist supporters Tuesday to ensure massive turnouts for upcoming public gatherings because the large numbers would help compel the Spanish government to grant the region a self-determination vote.
Catalan President Quim Torra said he was ready for talks with the central government in Madrid on Catalonia's future and opposes violence, but would only settle for "freedom" — a reference to secession.
Catalonia "is at a crossroads" in its drive for independence, Torra said in a much-anticipated speech at Catalonia's National Theater in Barcelona.
The region's national day, called the Diada, on Sept. 11, and an Oct. 1 anniversary commemoration of last year's illegal independence referendum in Catalonia present an "enormous challenge" for the separatist movement as it tries to find traction after a series of legal setbacks, Torra said.
"At the Diada, our success is at stake," Torra said as he called on people to fill the streets in a show of support for secession, injecting new momentum into the struggle.
"Only an agreed, binding and internationally recognized referendum on self-determination will resolve the conflict" between Barcelona and Madrid, he said.
Nine prominent separatist leaders are in Spanish jails awaiting trial on charges that include rebellion for their role in last October's illegal referendum and a declaration of independence that was thwarted by Spanish courts.
Meanwhile, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is living in exile in Belgium after Spain's bid to extradite him from Germany on rebellion charges failed.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose center-left government came to power in June, has taken a less confrontational stance on the Catalan issue, than his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.
But Sanchez's offer to broaden the Catalan region's self-rule powers was spurned by the secessionists, who said they won't back down from their demand for self-determination on their terms.