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Catalan president puts off independence move to focus on talks

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont walks to the podium to make the opening speech at the parliament in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Puigdemont is addressing the Catalan parliament in a session that some have portrayed as the staging of an independence declaration for the northeastern region of 7.5 million, although others have said the move would only be symbolic. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has said he has a mandate to declare independence for the north-eastern Spanish region but is prepared to wait "a few weeks" in order to facilitate a dialogue.

Sr Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament a landslide victory in the disputed October 1 referendum on independence gives his government grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain but he is suggesting holding off.

"I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic ... I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution," Sr Puigdemont told the regional parliament.

His speech was highly critical of the Spanish government's response to the referendum but he said Catalans have nothing against Spain or Spaniards, and that they want to understand each other better.

At the end of his speech, Sr Puigdemont was applauded by standing separatist lawmakers.

The opposition leader in Catalonia's parliament said Sr Puigdemont's statement that he has a mandate to declare independence from Spain "is a coup" and has no support in Europe.

Ines Arrimadas of the Ciudadanos party said the majority of Catalans feel they are Catalans, Spanish and European, and that they will not let regional officials "break their hearts".

A Spanish official says the government of Spain does not accept what he called an "implicit" declaration of independence by the Catalonia region's president.

The official added that the results of the referendum cannot be considered valid.

Mr Puigdemont's speech received mixed reactions from thousands of separatist supporters outside the parliament building where he spoke.

His statement about having a mandate was greeted with applause and chants in favour of independence.

When he mentioned waiting in order to foster dialogue, some stopped, while others said "yes, yes, it's the way to do it" and kept applauding.

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