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Sarkozy backs 'united Spain' amid Catalan independence bid

26 september 2015, 13:13

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appealed for a "united Spain" in Barcelona on Friday as campaigning wrapped up for a regional election in Catalonia framed as an indirect vote on independence, AFP reports.

"Europe needs Spain, a united Spain, a strong Spain, a Spain that is standing up," he told a final rally held at a Barcelona congress centre by Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party before Sunday's vote.

"As a Friend of Spain, I have the right and the duty to say that a Europe with a divided Spain would be a weakened Europe," he added as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy looked on from the front row.

"Sunday's elections are not simply a problem of Spain and Catalonia. It is a problem of all of Europe that needs your unity."

Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas told AFP in an interview this week that he will consider a victory on Sunday for his nationalist alliance tantamount to a "Yes" vote for independence.

If his side wins, he vows to launch a roadmap towards a declaration of independence by 2017.

A separatist electoral victory would set Catalonia on a collision course with Spain's central government in Madrid and could boost secessionist movements around Europe.

While Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom last year in a referendum, am election victory for the Catalan separatists could revive secessionist sentiment in areas of Europe where it has waned like Spain's Basque region or Flemish-speaking Belgium.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, among other foreign leaders, have also called for Spain to stay united.

"Never, never, never before has Europe faced crises as serious and as dangerous and as multiple...dear friends, there is only one path to overcome the crises that we face, that is the path of gathering together and of unity," Sarkozy added.

Sarkozy, who is expected to seek another run for the presidency in 2017, ended his address by saying in Spanish that "Europe and France need a strong and united Spain."

The latest opinion polls show Mas and his secessionist allies could win a majority in the Catalan parliament and nearly half the votes overall.

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