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Pope signals Scotland, Catalonia should take care on independence

Pope Francis waves after leading his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 11, 2014. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis suggested on Friday that Scotland and Catalonia must think carefully about breaking away from their national unions, making a distinction between seeking independence in the pursuit of freedom versus secession.

In an interview published in Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper as Scots prepare to vote on whether to split from Britain and Catalonia’s leader tries to organise a similar referendum, Francis said independence had to be treated with great care.

“Obviously, there are peoples with such different cultures that you can’t stick them together with glue,” the pontiff told the paper, which is based in Catalonia, mentioning Yugoslavia, which was torn apart by war in the 1990s.

Francis distinguished between “independence for emancipation”, as in the cases of countries in the Americas who wanted to be free of the control of European states, and “independence for secession”.

Asked whether he was concerned about conflict between Spain and the northern region of Catalonia, Francis said all division concerned him. He went on to mention Scotland and also Padania, an area of northern Italy the right-wing Northern League party wants to make independent from the rest of the country.

“There are cases that will be fair and cases that won’t be fair, but the secession of a nation without a history of forced unity must be handled very carefully and analysed case-by-case,” he said, without specifically saying what he thought should be done in Spain, Britain and northern Italy.

Anne McGuire, a member of Britain’s left-wing Labour Party, welcomed the pope’s comments and said, “the best way to secure our future is to work together as part of something bigger.”

Britain’s major political parties are campaigning for a “no” vote on Sept. 18, but support for the Scottish nationalist cause rose last month, a poll found on Thursday.

Catalan president Artur Mas is forging ahead with plans for a Nov. 9 vote on independence for the region, which the central government vows to block on constitutional grounds.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall