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France's Occitanie region calls for Spain and Catalonia peace talks

People celebrate and wave Catalan separatist flags in front of the Catalan regional government headquarters after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain, October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

PARIS (Reuters) - Spanish and Catalan leaders should open talks as soon as possible to safeguard civil peace, the head of France’s Occitanie region, which borders Catalonia, said on Saturday.

Madrid on Friday sacked Catalonia’s regional government to block its push for independence and called a snap election in the region on Dec. 21 in a bid to draw a line under Spain’s worst political crisis in 40 years.

“Our region... has a special history with Spain, and we have had close ties with our neighbour Catalonia for decades,” Occitanie president Carole Delga said in a written statement.

Occitanie includes the Pyrenees-Orientales, whose territory was part of Catalonia until the signing of a treaty to end a war between France and Spain in 1659. The Catalan language is still spoken by a few people living in the French region.

“Faced with this deadlock situation, I want to stress the need to find a way to open talks as soon as possible, notably to safeguard the civil peace,” Delga added.

Occitanie is France’s second-biggest region with a total population of more than 5 million people. It was created in January 2016 and comprises two former regions, including the cities of Toulouse and Montpelier.

Separately, the nationalist president of the Corsican Assembly, Jean-Guy Talamoni, said on Twitter that he recognized the “birth of the Republic of Catalonia” but called for European authorities to mediate between Madrid and Barcelona.

“On the European side, what’s troubling is this unfailing support for Madrid, which has used extremely violent means to prevent peaceful people from voting,” Talamoni later said on France Info radio station.

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised the police for carrying out their duties and upholding the law while they attempted to prevent the banned independence referendum taking place.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Elizabeth Pineau; editing by Alexander Smith