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Spain's King Felipe Directs Xmas Message to Catalan Separatists


Spain's King Felipe VI delivers his traditional Christmas address at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, December 23, 2017 in this photo released December 24, 2017.

Spain's King Felipe directed his Christmas message Sunday to the separatist-minded region of Catalonia and what he says is the need to avoid confrontation.

The king urged regional leaders to help "Catalonia's society, diverse and plural as it is, to recover its serenity, stability, and mutual respect in such a way as to ensure that ideas don't divide or separate families and friends."

Looking back on a "difficult" year for Spain, he reminded Catalan leaders and the newly-elected parliament to "face the problems that affect all Catalans, respecting their diversity and thinking responsibly in the common good."

In an October speech, the king condemned what he called the "unacceptable disloyalty" of Catalan separatists.

Pro-independence lawmakers dominate the Catalan parliament after Thursday's election.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy disbanded the previous parliament after Catalonia illegally held an independence referendum, leading to violence and nationwide chaos.

Rajoy was hoping Catalan voters would elect a new parliament that favors remaining united with Spain instead of looking to secede.

Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont fled to exile in Belgium after the October referendum. He has offered to hold talks with Rajoy, but will not return to Spain where he faces arrest.

Rajoy has so far refused to meet with Puigdemont, saying he wants to wait until the Catalan parliament elects its next regional president.

Catalonia, in northeast Spain, and its capital Barcelona are major tourist magnets. It has his own language and distinct culture. But the separatist crisis has hurt tourism and the regional economy.

Catalan separatists say the region is a powerful economic engine that drives Spain and have demanded more autonomy.

Those who want to stay united with Spain are afraid the region will sink into an economic abyss without the central government, its ties to the European Union, and its numerous existing bilateral relations.