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Spanish premier urges Catalan secession leaders to back down

Spain's prime minister has urged Catalonia's leaders to back down from their bid to gain independence, a day before a central government deadline that could significantly deepen the country's political crisis.

Mariano Rajoy has given Catalan president Carles Puigdemont until Thursday morning to clarify whether he is making the wealthy region independent.

The Madrid government is threatening to take the unprecedented step of seizing some or total control of the semi-autonomous region if Mr Puigdemont proceeds with his ambitions of secession.

That would be likely to trigger an explosive reaction in Catalonia.

With the clock ticking, Mr Rajoy called on Mr Puigdemont to "act sensibly" and heed the interests of all Spaniards and Catalans.

Addressing Mr Puigdemont's party legislators in the Spanish parliament, the PM said they should try to convince the Catalan leader "not to make any more problems".

The tension remained high, however, weeks after an October 1 referendum in Catalonia which Spain's top court ruled was unconstitutional.

About 50 Spanish and Catalan party legislators held up posters in parliament demanding the release of two pro-Catalonia independence movement leaders, describing them as political prisoners.

The protest lasted around 15 seconds before they heeded warnings that they were out of order and sat down.

The demonstration was over Monday's jailing of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the Catalan grassroots organisations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, in a sedition investigation.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Tuesday in Catalonia, demanding their release.

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