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Catalan leader calls for talks with new Spain PM

Barcelona .-  Catalonia’s separatist president Quim Torra called on Saturday for talks with Spain’s new prime minister as the Catalan regional executive was sworn in at an emotional ceremony full of pro-independence symbolism.

The swearing-in will automatically bring an end to Madrid’s direct rule over the wealthy, northeastern region imposed in October after a failed bid to break from Spain.

“Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, let’s talk, let’s address this issue, let’s take risks, you and us,” Torra said, just minutes after Sanchez himself was sworn in Madrid.

Sanchez takes office after ousting veteran conservative leader Mariano Rajoy from power in a no-confidence vote on Friday.

“We need to sit down at the same table and negotiate, government to government,” Torra said. “This situation we’re going through cannot go on for even one more day.”

Sanchez, a 46-year-old economist who as opposition leader was sharply critical of Catalonia’s secession bid, has promised to try to “build bridges” with the region’s new government which is still determined to work towards independence.

Torra’s call for talks came as his hand-picked 13 councillors took oath in the regional presidency in Barcelona — some of them wearing yellow, the colour that has come to symbolise the separatist cause.

“Do you promise to faithfully fulfil the duties of the post you’re taking on at the service of Catalonia in accordance with the law and with loyalty to Catalonia’s regional president?”, Torra asked each one.

“Yes I promise,” they responded to strong applause.

An empty chair with a yellow ribbon stood in the chamber to represent Catalan separatists who are in jail over their role in last autumn’s independence push and those like ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont who fled abroad.

Letters were read out by loved ones of those affected, during a ceremony that saw several onlookers break down in tears.

The swearing-in ends months of political limbo in the northeastern region after the independence bid last October caused Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

Under the terms of emergency legislation brought in to take over the Catalan administration, Madrid must lift direct rule once a Catalan government is fully formed and cabinet members are sworn in.

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