MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s government will move jailed Catalan separatist leaders to prisons in their home region, as it pursues efforts to take the heat out of a bitter political face-off that has destabilized the country.
The detention of nine former members of the regional government and heads of civil groups over their involvement in an independence referendum that Madrid declared illegal has been a powerful source of grievance in the wealthy region.
Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in October, prompting the then conservative government of Mariano Rajoy to impose direct rule.
The northeastern region’s secession bid remains active under a newly elected administration.
While he remains opposed to any moves toward independence, new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has adopted a more conciliatory approach to the problem than his predecessor, calling for dialogue and lifting financial controls on the region.
Government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said it was now ready to move the jailed separatists the several hundred miles back to Catalonia from Madrid.
“We will proceed with the transfer of these people to Catalan prisons,” Celaa told a news conference. “The transfer is now open.”
Sanchez is due to meet Catalan leader Quim Torra on July 9.
Torra is successor to Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain after declaring independence following the referendum and is currently in Germany awaiting the outcome of a Spanish extradition request.
Reporting by Isla Binnie and Rodrigo de Miguel; editing by John Stonestreet