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Spain's King Condemns Catalan Leaders


Spain is in a political crisis. The country's king spoke last night in a rare address to the nation. He had harsh words for the leaders of Catalonia. That's the northeast region that held an independence vote last week. It was ruled illegal by Spain's central government which then sent police to raid polling stations. Lauren Frayer reports from the Catalan capital, Barcelona.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The Spanish king usually only speaks on TV at Christmas, but Spain is facing its most serious constitutional crisis since democracy began here in the late 1970s.


KING FELIPE VI: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We are living through very grave moments," stone-faced King Felipe told the nation. Then he unleashed a tirade against Catalan separatist leaders.


FELIPE VI: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "With their irresponsible behavior," he said, "they put their own region and all of Spain at risk." The king called them disloyal to the Spanish state just days after Spanish police attacked polling stations here. Nearly 1,000 civilians were injured Sunday. Moments after the king spoke, scores of people emerged onto balconies across Barcelona...


FRAYER: ...Clanging pots and pans together, what's become a nightly chorus of dissent here. The king's speech came at the end of a day of angry protests across Catalonia.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Chanting, in Spanish).

FRAYER: Offices, schools and most public transit were shut. On one of Europe's main coastal highways, protesters sat down and played chess in the middle of the road. Traffic backed up toward the French border.

AENA NICOLAS: We are trying to make people from all around the world see what's happening here.

FRAYER: College student Aena Nicolas (ph) wore a Catalan independence flag like a cape as she marched through Barcelona.

NICOLAS: Everyone knows now that police attacked us when we were trying to vote, and now it's not anymore about independence, it's about democracy and it's about...

FRAYER: Spain calls Sunday's independence referendum here undemocratic. It was ruled illegal by all Spanish courts. Even though 90 percent voted for independence, the count was done by separatists themselves. Half of Catalan stayed home. Even those who voted for secession are now divided over what they want next.

AMAYA CARILLO: I don't really even know what it means to declare independent yourself, like, only from one side, you know?

FRAYER: Engineer Amaya Carillo (ph) wants the Catalan president to try for dialogue.

CARILLO: You need to work things out. So I don't think it's that easy.

FRAYER: Still, Catalonia's president reiterated last night his plan to declare independence within days. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.