0501 GMT April 23, 2018
A day after hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona to demand the release of separatist officials detained over their independence drive, Rajoy also urged businesses not to flee the wealthy northern region, AFP reported.
“We have to recover the sensible, practical, enterprising and dynamic Catalonia... that has contributed so much to the progress of Spain and Europe,” Rajoy told members of his Popular Party in Barcelona.
“We want to regain a Catalonia for everyone, democratic and free,” he added.
The Catalonia crisis has caused concern in the European Union as the bloc deals with Brexit and uncertainty over the fate of the region’s 7.5 million people. More than 2,400 businesses have moved their legal headquarters elsewhere.
Rajoy on Sunday urged those businesses “not to go.”
Separatist lawmakers, who were dismissed by Madrid after declaring their region independence from Spain last month, insist that they were given a mandate for secession by a banned October 1 referendum.
However, pro-unity camps say that the vote was deeply flawed and largely boycotted by opponents of independence, though more than 90 percent of those who turned out backed a breakaway.
Several officials have been detained over their role in pushing for independence, which is outlawed under Spain’s post-civil war Constitution.
The region – which accounts for a fifth of Spanish GDP – remains deeply divided on independence, and Barcelona’s mayor on Saturday slammed separatist lawmakers for dragging Catalonia into chaos.
A poll commissioned Sunday by the Madrid-based El Pais daily showed that less than a third of Catalans now believed independence was possible in the near future.
The 28 percent of respondents who said they thought swift secession was viable was down sharply from a similar poll in October.
Rajoy has used his powers as head of Spain’s central government to dismiss Catalan lawmakers, suspend the region’s autonomy and call for fresh regional elections on December 21.
The prime minister, who attended a presentation by a party candidate at a hotel in Barcelona, did not appear in public.
Eight ministers under Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont have been detained on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. Two heads of pro-independence lobby groups are also behind bars.
Six former parliamentarians were granted bail last week by Spain’s Supreme Court on similar charges.
Local police said 750,000 people turned out in Barcelona on Saturday to demand the release of detained officials.
The demonstrators gathered on an avenue next to the regional parliament building waving Catalan independence flags and chanting “Freedom!” while some held up banners announcing: “SOS Democracy.”