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Catalonia calls for 'permanent dialogue' on independence, economy

MADRID (Reuters) - The head of Catalonia’s regional government Artur Mas proposed on Tuesday that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy establish a permanent dialogue over Catalan independence and raft of measures to boost its economy.

Catalan President Artur Mas gestures during a news conference at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

His proposal came after close to 2 million Catalans voted on Sunday in favor of breaking away from Spain in a symbolic consultation organized after the Spanish state blocked in courts a more formal - albeit still non-binding - referendum.

“I sent today a letter to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Its first objective is to invite the Spanish government to establish the conditions of a permanent dialogue,” Mas told a televised news conference following a meeting of his regional government.

Mas added the dialogue should focus on discussing how a proper referendum on independence could be held in the northeastern region, which accounts for about one fifth of Spain’s economic output and population.

He also said he hoped Rajoy could respond favorably to a list of 23 steps he invited the central government in July to take in order to increase Catalonia’s share of Spanish finances.

Rajoy has said he is ready to talk about the measures, agree on a new system to finance Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and discuss a reform of the constitution, but he opposes holding a binding vote on secession in the region.

If the central government failed to address Catalonia’s concerns, Mas said, then he would likely seek to bring forward next regional elections due in late 2016 and use them as a proxy for a referendum on independence.

“We’re willing to use this tool if there is not a positive answer from the Spanish government,” he said. “I have the obligation to open the door to dialogue with Mariano Rajoy but if it doesn’t work, we will follow our roadmap.”

However he reiterated that such elections would only be organized if Catalan parties could agree to run on a common platform. To that effect, a round of talks with pro-independence Catalan parties will start in the next days.

Mas’ center-right CiU party lacks an absolute majority in the regional parliament and has relied on leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) to pass legislation. ERC recently said it could withdraw this support if Mas decided not to call early elections.

Reporting by Julien Toyer; Editing by Dominic Evans