Catalan leader Mas urges separatism in New Year speech
The President of Spain's Catalonia region, Artur Mas, has signalled his determination to hold a referendum on independence, in a New Year message.
Mr Mas has formed a pro-independence coalition since winning an early election last month. But Madrid says a referendum would have no legal force.
In his televised message Mr Mas said a majority of Catalans "want to build a new country".
"We are now facing transcendental pages in our history," he said.
Catalonia - one of Spain's most developed regions - already has a wide degree of autonomy, but the economic crisis has fuelled Catalan nationalism. Pro-independence feelings go back centuries, and the Spanish Civil War strengthened animosity between Madrid and Barcelona.
Mr Mas said he wanted "all the citizens to decide freely and peacefully our future as a nation".
"Our duty and responsibility is to leave for future generations a country that they can feel proud of."
He added that social welfare must go hand-in-hand with Catalonia's "national project".Blame
His centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) alliance is now in power in Barcelona with a left-wing party, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). The ERC also supports independence but opposes Mr Mas's spending cuts.
Mr Mas won re-election in November, even though his CiU won fewer seats than it had expected.
The ERC leader, Oriol Junqueras, voiced support for Mr Mas's speech, blaming Madrid for Catalonia's economic difficulties.
"These difficulties are our main arguments for being a free state," he said, quoted by the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
At a news conference last week Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged national unity, "to avoid all that distracts us from exiting the [economic] crisis".
He said he was ready for dialogue with the Catalan government on its sovereignty aspirations, in the framework of the Spanish constitution.