Catalan public TV shuns Spanish king's Christmas speech

Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:12pm EST
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By Fiona Ortiz

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish king's traditional Christmas Eve address did not air on Catalonia's public television on Tuesday for the first time in the broadcaster's 30-year history, highlighting growing separatist fervor in the wealthy north-eastern region.

Workers at the broadcaster went on a brief strike during the king's speech and other programming was aired instead. The official reason was to protest cost cuts and outsourcing of some production. Catalonia has clashed with the central government in Madrid over cuts on spending on public services.

In his address, King Juan Carlos did not directly discuss the contentious issue of Catalan independence, but he made a strong appeal to Spaniards to unify and embrace their diversity as the country struggles to emerge from a deep five-year economic crisis that has left one in four workers out of a job.

"Together we have resolved problems even more difficult than the ones we face today and we've always aimed for the same common goal," the king said. "Spain is a great nation that is worth fighting for."

Catalonia - which has its own language - is home to 7.6 million people and produces about a fifth of Spain's economic output. Its leader, Artur Mas of the centre-right CiU political alliance, is pushing for a referendum on November 9 next year on independence from Spain.

That would be two months after Scotland holds a similar vote on whether to break from the United Kingdom.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says the Catalan plebiscite would be unconstitutional and has vowed to block it in Parliament and in the courts.

Mas's referendum drive may prove a political dead end for him and his party. If the central government blocks the plebiscite, his coalition with radical independence party the Catalan Republican Left, or ERC, could fall apart and force him to call early elections. Polls show he would lose the election to the ERC.   Continued...

Spanish King Juan Carlos speaks during his traditional Christmas message at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid December 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andres Ballesteros