Mas Sworn in as Catalan President, Starting Independence Battle

Artur Mas, who has pledged to seek independence for Catalonia, was sworn in as president of the region, paving the way for a battle over autonomy with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“Let’s remember that in the history of nations, the big changes have almost always happened at very difficult times and against the tide,” Mas said at a ceremony in Barcelona today. “We are all protagonists of a unique moment in our history.”

Mas will govern with the support of the Catalan Republican Left after falling short of a majority in elections last month. As part of his deal with the separatists, Mas pledged to be ready for an independence referendum in 2014.

Rajoy’s government in Madrid says any popular vote on independence for Spain’s biggest regional economy would be unconstitutional, and it would use legal measures to stop it. Asked whether he would try to disqualify Mas from governing or suspend the region’s autonomous status, Rajoy declined to comment in an interview published today by El Mundo. Everyone is “subject to the law,” he said.

Mas, whose new Cabinet will start work on Dec. 27, urged the central government not to try to “hold back the tide” or prevent Catalans choosing their future freely. He called for leaders on both sides to work to prevent a “collision.”

“Let’s have faith in Catalonia,” he said. “No one and nothing can take that great faith away from us.”

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