The Spanish government and the European Union warned Catalonia's separatist leader today against declaring independence, just hours before he announces a possible split from Spain under intense domestic and European scrutiny. Whether or not Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will follow through on his threat to announce a full breakaway in defiance of the central government and Spanish courts is still unknown. Police increased security around the regional parliament in Barcelona where Puigdemont is due to address Catalan lawmakers at 1600 GMT, blocking public access to a park that houses the building. In Madrid, the Spanish government issued a sharp warning to Puigdemont as it grapples with the nation's worst political crisis in a generation. "We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration," government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters. EU President Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make "dialogue impossible". At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain's economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union. Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have come out against an independence declaration, concerned over the country's biggest upheaval since its transition to democracy in the 1970s. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his legal power to prevent independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the semi- autonomous region -- an unprecedented move many fear could lead to unrest. But the Catalan president says the independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban justifies splitting from Madrid. Around 90 percent of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession boycotted an illegal plebiscite that was witnessed a violent police crackdown. Yesterday, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned that a unilateral declaration of independence would put "social cohesion" at risk. Pro-unity and pro-independence supporters have staged mass rallies in Barcelona over the past week, highlighting divisions in Catalonia. Anger over the police violence during the referendum swung some Catalans over to the independence camp.
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