Catalan leader Puigdemont under pressure not to declare independence
Spain's government has warned Catalan president Carles Puigdemont "not to do anything irreversible" ahead of a speech in Barcelona in which the separatist leader could declare independence from Spain.
"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, which would lead to illegality," Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.
Mr Puigdemont is coming under growing pressure to pull back from declaring independence from Spain. He is due to address the regional parliament at 5pm (Irish time), but it is still not clear exactly what he will say.
In advance of the announcement, barriers have been erected around the Catalan Parliament building and there is a heavy police presence.
Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajo y refused to rule out suspending Catalonia's regional autonomy unless its leaders withdraw a threatened declaration of independence.
"I don't rule out anything," Mr Rajoy said in an interview with daily newspaper El Pais when asked about applying the constitutional provision that allows the suspension of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.
"But I must do things at the proper time ... I would like the threat of an independence declaration to be withdrawn as quickly as possible."
Seeking to reassure Spaniards, Mr Rajoy added: "The government will ensure that any declaration of independence will lead to nothing."
He also urged moderate Catalan nationalists to distance themselves from the "radicals" in the separatist camp who are pushing hardest for an independence move.
He spoke after tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied across Spain at the weekend calling for Spanish unity and demanding action to resolve the volatile political crisis.
Protesters dressed in white gathered in front of town halls in dozens of cities to demand dialogue to end the crisis in demonstrations organised by a group called Let's Talk.
In Barcelona, thousands packed Sant Jaume square in front of city hall as tension reigned with no solution in sight to Spain's worst political crisis in a generation.
They held up signs with the word "parlem" - Catalan for "let's talk" - and waved white handkerchiefs but not flags.
Similar rallies were held in Bilbao, Zaragoza, Valladolid and other cities under the slogan: "Spain is better than its leaders".
But in Madrid, parallel to the Let's Talk march, about 50,000 people according to Spain's central government gathered beneath an enormous Spanish flag for a "patriotic" march organised by activists to defend unity.
European Council President Donald Tusk called on Puigdemont not to take a decision that would thwart dialogue.
Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who chairs EU summits, said during a speech to an EU regional forum in Brussels today: "I ask you to respect, in your intentions, the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible.
"Diversity should not, and need not, lead to conflict, whose consequences would obviously be bad for the Catalans, for Spain and for the whole of Europe."
Tusk, who noted his own ethnic minority background and personal experience of being hit by police batons as an anti-Communist activist in the 1980s, said he had also urged Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to "look for a solution to the problem without the use of force".
The intervention was a dramatic shift for the EU, where the executive Commission has called for dialogue in the crisis but has stopped short of a clear rejection of Catalan independence,describing it as an "internal matter" for Spain.