Spanish, Catalan leaders stand ground in independence tussle

MADRID Wed Jul 30, 2014 12:20pm EDT

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (R) gestures during a meeting with Catalan President Artur Mas at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, July 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Paul Hanna

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (R) gestures during a meeting with Catalan President Artur Mas at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, July 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Hanna

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan President Artur Mas failed to break the deadlock over Catalonia's independence drive on Wednesday, both standing firm on their positions when they met for the first time in a year.

The meeting had been seen as an opportunity for the two leaders to work on a possible compromise over an independence referendum that the northern region wants to hold on Nov. 9 - two months after a similar vote in Scotland that is being closely watched in Catalonia.

Rajoy insisted the referendum was unconstitutional and he would block it, while Mas said he would go ahead with the vote.

"My message is the same as it was a year ago. We are absolutely decided to continue with this consultation," Mas told reporters following the two-and-a-half hour meeting.

"(Rajoy) has reiterated that the referendum cannot go ahead because, according to the state, it is illegal. And so, there is no alternative proposal from him."

About 80 percent of Catalans believe the referendum should be allowed to go ahead, according to polls, though only around half believe the relatively wealthy region, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy, should become independent.

The specter of a breakaway Catalonia, which accounts for 16 percent of Spain's population, has become a big headache for Rajoy, who is battling high unemployment and the scars of a prolonged recession.

(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz, Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Julien Toyer and Angus MacSwan)

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