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The Latest: Spain PM willing to talk with Catalonia leaders

December 22, 2017

People at the Junts Per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party headquarters celebrate Catalan regional election results in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. The pro-secession bloc won a majority in Catalan regional elections, but the anti-independence Ciutadans (Citizens), led by 36-year-old lawyer Ines Arrimadas, won the highest number of votes for a single party. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Latest on the election results in Catalonia (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he expects a “new era based on dialogue” will begin in Catalonia following a regional election that exposed the sharp divisions between citizens for and against independence.

Rajoy called the election held Thursday after ousting the pro-secession government in the region, hoping to stop the movement to break away from Spain. A block of separatist parties retained their majority in the Catalan parliament.

Rajoy said during a news conference Friday that the election’s outcome, which also gave the pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) party the most votes, showed a diversity of views in Catalonia that compel the new government to abide by the law.

The prime minister says he will talk with the region’s new leaders as long as they don’t violate Spain’s Constitution. The previous government held an independence referendum that Spanish courts said was unconstitutional.

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1.45 p.m.

A prominent politician in Catalonia’s left-wing republican ERC party says Spanish authorities need to accept election results that gave separatists a majority in the regional parliament.

“The (Catalan) Republic has won again in elections,” Marta Rovira told reporters on Friday in Barcelona.

Separatist lawmakers passed an illegal independence declaration in late October. The Catalan Cabinet was ousted and faces possible charges over the secession push. Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is evading the probe in Brussels, while his deputy, ERC militant Oriol Junqueras, remains behind bars.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy “needs to accept dialogue with President Puigdemont and Vice President Junqueras,” Rovira said, without clarifying if her party would support Puigdemont, whose ticket received more votes than ERC’s.

Rajoy, Rovira said, “needs to put an end to this unjust exile and imprisonment.”

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12:45 p.m.

The German government says any new Catalan government will have to respect the Spanish constitution and is stressing that it still views the region’s future as a Spanish domestic issue.

Thursday’s regional election gave separatist parties another slim majority in Catalonia’s parliament, offering new momentum to their drive for independence — which has no support from Spain’s European partners. Spain’s constitution bars secession.

German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Friday Berlin hopes regional lawmakers will be able to “overcome the current division of Catalan society and shape a common future with all political forces in Spain.”

Demmer said Spanish politicians should “use all opportunities for dialogue and de-escalation.”

She added: “This is a domestic Spanish matter that has to be resolved within Spanish law and the Spanish constitutional order.”

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12:30 p.m.

Fugitive Catalan former leader Carles Puigdemont says that he’s ready to meet Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in any European Union location but in Spain, where he’s facing arrest.

Speaking Friday to reporters in Brussels, where he fled evading a Spanish judicial probe into his recent attempt to split Catalonia from Spain, Puigdemont said that Thursday’s regional election opened “a new era” for the region.

Rajoy has refused to engage in dialogue with the separatists until they vow to defend their political goals within the limits of Spain’s Constitution, which bans unilateral secession of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions.

Puigdemont says that he wants guarantees to return to Catalonia and be reinstated as the region’s leader. As the most voted candidate among separatists, he could be chosen to lead a new pro-independence coalition depending on how negotiations with other parties go.

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12:15 p.m.

People walking by the sea in the Catalan capital Barcelona say they want Spain’s political leaders to sit down and figure out a solution for the tense and drawn-out stalemate over their region’s future.

A snap regional election Thursday failed to clarify the way forward, as parties seeking Catalonia’s independence will be a majority in the new parliament but a pro-union party got the most votes.

Beatriz Versosa, a 33-year-old product manager, regrets the lack of progress and said Friday that “the rulers of Spain and Catalonia (must) put themselves in the place of citizens and understand that they must solve the issue and set aside the most extreme positions.”

Mercedes Aras chided the Spanish government for imposing direct rule from Madrid after Catalan separatist parties in October unilaterally declared independence. The 54-year-old historian wants Spanish authorities to “sit down to negotiate on a realistic basis.”

Meanwhile, computer analyst Didag Fortun says the ballot changed nothing and that politicians “should look now for a different solution to solve the problem.”

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11:55 a.m.

A Spanish judge investigating Catalan separatists for leading an illegal independence push in October is widening the probe to six more politicians.

Among those included in the wider probe from Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena are former Catalan president, Artur Mas, and left-wing republican Marta Rovira, one of the names floated as a hopeful to become the region’s next leader.

The move creates further complications to the political future of Spain’s restive northeastern region as Rovira was also elected as a lawmaker in Thursday’s election which saw pro-independence parties come out on top.

Eight of the separatist lawmakers elected, including ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his no. 2 Oriol Junqueras, are either in jail or are fugitives from Spanish justice in Brussels following the October secession bid.

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11:45 a.m.

Residents and politicians in and outside Catalonia are digesting election results which further exposed the sharp divisions between those for and against independence.

Though pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) collected most votes in Thursday’s election in the restive region, it was a bittersweet victory for the business-friendly party as separatist parties won most seats in the region’s parliament.

If they work together, the pro-independence parties have the ability to forge a majority in the Catalan parliament and form the next government. However, past squabbles between them suggest it won’t be easy.

Parties are already holding meetings to assess the new political landscape.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. (1300GMT) on Friday.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into his recent attempt to split Catalonia from Spain, is also scheduled to speak.

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