Spain's Sanchez makes Catalan dialogue top priority

Pedro Sanchez vowed to engage in dialogue over the thorny issue of Catalan independence as he seeks to resume as prime minister at the head of a leftist coalition

Spain's Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, seeking a leftist political alliance to resume office as prime minister, Saturday made dialogue in restive Catalonia an "absolute priority".

"Spain will not break up, nor will the Constitution. What will break up is the (political) impasse," said Sanchez as he set out his stall to lawmakers in a bid to end eight months of political deadlock.

Having failed to land a majority in November's repeat general election although his Socialists won the most seats, Sanchez faces opposition from right-wing parties ready to call out any sign of a willingness to "sell out" Spain to Catalan separatists.

He Thursday won a pledge from key Catalan separatist party ERC to abstain in an upcoming confidence vote which would boost his chances of continuing to lead the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.

Their abstention would likely be enough to see Sanchez stay at the helm following two inconclusive elections last year.

Sanchez on Saturday laid out his team's manifesto as the Socialists look to form a government with support from far-left anti-austerity party Podemos.

He is pledging to lift the lowest salaries and raise taxes for high earners and large businesses while moderating elements of Spain's controversial 20102 labour market reforms.

Sanchez faces a first vote of confidence Sunday which is unlikely to give him the absolute majority of votes he needs, leading to a second vote Tuesday in which he will merely require a simple majority of votes in parliament.

There, the ERC abstentions should see him just over the line.

The Catalan nationalist party and the Spanish Socialists have agreed that the national and local governments establish a dialogue as a matter of urgency, culminating in a "consultation" of Catalan voters to determine the future of the wealthy eastern region.

The political situation in Catalonia remains in flux following the 2017 independence referendum which Madrid declared unconstitutional.

"There exists in a broad swathe of the Catalan population a feeling of injustice with regard to central (Madrid) institutions," said Sanchez. He conceded there is "another segment equally broad which feels ignored or unjustly treated by the (regional, pro-independence) institutions of its own land."

He added that "one can neither impose nor ban these sentiments... What I propose is to resume political dialogue ... abandoning the judicialisation of the conflict," referring to the jailing of nine secessionist regional politicians.

"Dialogue, always within the bounds of the constitution, will be our absolute priority," Sanchez vowed.

Pedro Sanchez vowed to engage in dialogue over the thorny issue of Catalan independence as he seeks to resume as prime minister at the head of a leftist coalition