Mass Protest in Catalonia against Arrest of Secessionist Leaders

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Spain's constitutional court ruled Tuesday that an independence referendum in Catalonia was unconstitutional, adding weight to government efforts to block the region from breaking away from the rest of the country but not persuading demonstrators demanding the release of two jailed separatist activists.

This provision of the constitution - which has never been used before - would open the way for Madrid to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region. Regional leaders went on to stage the October 1 referendum on whether the region should separate from Spain.

It could allow Madrid to suspend Puigdemont's regional government and eventually trigger new elections in Catalonia, but the move would risk further escalating a crisis that has sparked huge street rallies, rattled stock markets and deeply anxious Spain's European Union partners.

Spain appealed to Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to "act sensibly" on Wednesday, just 24 hours before a government deadline for the region to renounce a bid for independence.

Protesters are gathering for a fresh round of demonstrations in Barcelona to demand the release of two leaders of Catalonia's pro-independence movement who were jailed in a sedition probe.

"They want us to be afraid so we stop thinking of independence, but the opposite will happen". On Tuesday, a spokesman for generality said that Catalan government's response on Thursday would be same as on Monday.

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"We have shown in Catalonia that citizenship is bigger than any ideas".

Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero has also been charged with sedition - a crime that carries up to 15 years' jail time - accused of failing to stop the referendum going ahead.

An eventual break from Spain would leave Catalonia, which accounts for one-fifth of the country's economic output, outside the European Union and the consumer protections it offers - a source of concern for many depositors and companies.

In a letter to Mariano Rajoy, Mr. Puigdemont did not respond directly to question - is independence proclaimed, yes or no? - but has advocated a dialogue with Madrid, proposing to meet Rajoy "as soon as possible".

The standoff has sparked a business exodus, with almost 700 companies moving their legal headquarters out of Catalonia in a bid to minimise the instability.

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