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Catalan ex-minister not too optimistic about talks with Spain government

ABERDEEN, Scotland (Reuters) - The formation of a Socialist government in Spain provided a new chance of dialogue over the status of Catalonia, former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati said on Saturday, but she was not overly optimistic.

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Ponsati, a professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, is one of several former leaders of Catalonia’s regional government fighting extradition to Spain from around Europe for alleged violent rebellion and embezzlement.

The charges relate to the organization of an independence referendum aimed at splitting the wealthy northeastern region from Spain last October, deemed illegal under a constitution which only recognizes Spain itself as a nation.

“(The Spanish government) have a great opportunity to change their strategy, but honestly I’m not overly optimistic,” she told Reuters on the sidelines of the Scottish National Party Conference.

The SNP supports Scottish independence from the United Kingdom and considers the Catalan secessionists a sister cause.

“Everything is a step forward, having (former prime minister Mariano) Rajoy out of the picture is a step forward, but we have a conflict about self-determination and we need to face it,” she said.

She was given a standing ovation in a fringe meeting in support of Catalonia and will later address the main conference.

“There are political prisoners and the Spanish government cannot look the other way and say it is not their business,” she said.

Spain denies that Catalan former politicians, jailed pending trial for charges including rebellion against the Spanish state and embezzlement, are political prisoners.

Spain’s new Socialist government, formed after the conservative Popular Party lost a confidence vote in parliament, on Friday lifted financial controls on Catalonia and said it would seek dialogue to relieve tensions over an independence bid which pitched the country into political crisis.

Ponsati said it was now time for the Socialists to take action to prove they were different from Rajoy’s government.

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Stephen Powell