Catalonia should hold a new vote on independence from Spain within two years, the head of the region's government said on Thursday in a fresh challenge to Madrid following days of unrest by pro-separatist protesters.
Nearly 100 people were injured across the northeastern region on Wednesday in a third day of violence after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to lengthy jail terms over their failed effort to secure independence, with a referendum Madrid ruled was illegal, in 2017.
Cars and rubbish bins were torched in the Catalan capital Barcelona overnight and Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said 97 protesters had been arrested since the outbreak of some of the worst violence seen in Spain in years.
Grande-Marlaska said security reinforcements would be sent in with further protests planned for Friday, when unions have called a strike and protesters from around the region are due to converge on Barcelona, one of Europe's top tourist cities.
Addressing the Catalan parliament, pro-independence regional chief Quim Torra criticized the rioting, saying the separatist cause was a peaceful movement. But he also pushed the case for forging ahead with the stalled secessionist drive, saying Monday's sentences would not deter a new vote on independence.
We'll return to the ballot box again on self-determination, he said.If all parties and groups make it possible, we have to be able to finish this legislative term by validating independence, he added.
The regional parliament's term expires in December 2021.
The Constitutional Court warned Catalan officials on Wednesday of legal consequences if they broke the law by pursuing independence. A source close to Mr Torra said any eventual vote could be a regional election that would be considered a plebiscite on independence - a move that could circumvent Madrid's refusal to sanction a referendum.
Spain's main parties have consistently rejected calls for an independence referendum in Catalonia, although the ruling Socialists say they are open to dialogue on other issues.
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