A CATALAN parliamentary session that could see the separatist leader declare independence from Madrid has opened.
“The session begins,” regional parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell said, with all eyes on a speech by Mr Puigdemont in which is expected to announce a full breakaway from Spain.
It comes after the Spanish government warned Mr Puigdemont not to do anything “irreversible”.
“We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration, which would lead to illegality,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said.
At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union.
Mr Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist and lifelong independence advocate, will address Catalan politicians in an extraordinary parliamentary session from 4pm (GMT).
Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have urged Mr Puigdemont to stand down and ease the country’s biggest upheaval since its transition to democracy in the 1970s.
But the Catalan president says an independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban ruling it unconstitutional justifies splitting from Madrid.
Around 90 per cent of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession simply stayed at home. Turnout was just over 42 per cent.
Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos on Tuesday denounced the independence call as a “rebellion against the rule of law.”
Catalan police were out in full force around the region’s parliament in Barcelona ahead of the address.
Madrid insists that any independence declaration would not change the legal reality that Catalonia is one of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions with laws governed by the national constitution.
EU nations are watching developments closely amid concern that Catalan independence could put further pressure on the bloc still dealing with the fallout from Britain’s shock decision to leave.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his legal power to prevent Catalan independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the region from Madrid — a move many fear could lead to unrest.
Demands for independence in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, date back centuries.
But a 2010 move by Spain’s Constitutional Court to water down a statute that gave Catalonia additional powers, combined with an economic crisis in Spain, sparked a surge in support for independence.