BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister and the president of the country’s Catalonia region prepared to meet Thursday amid intense political maneuvers to dictate the terms of the talks and whether the loaded topic of Catalan independence would be on the agenda.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez planned to travel to Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, for the meeting with the region’s president, Quim Torra, who heads a pro-secession coalition government and wants Catalan self-determination to be on the agenda. Torra called the meeting a “summit” between two governments, which the Spanish side rejected.

Sanchez has said he wants to focus on social and economic issues in Catalonia rather than on the region’s divisive push for independence last year. After last-minute jockeying over the scope of the talks and whether Cabinet members from both sides would attend, the meeting finally was scheduled for 7 p.m. local time (1800GMT.)

Various pro-independence groups called for protests in front of the Barcelona palace hosting the meeting and at a hotel where Sanchez was expected to attend a Catalan business forum later Thursday night. Worker and student groups also called strikes for Friday, when the Spanish Cabinet at large holds its weekly meeting in Barcelona.

Security in the prosperous northeastern region of 7.4 million residents, normally in the hands of the Catalan police, has been reinforced with hundreds of anti-riot national police officers.

The ministers’ council normally takes place in Madrid but Sanchez’s center-left administration wanted to signal it has the right to conduct business anywhere in Spanish territory. Catalan authorities are supporting the protests of the central government ministers meeting, but said they would ensure both Sanchez’s right to hold it and the right of citizens to protest.

Nine separatist leaders who were charged with rebellion and other offenses for their roles in a banned secession referendum and an illegal declaration of independence last year issued an open letter from prison urging Catalonia’s people to take their grievances to the streets “massively, with determination and peacefully.”

Four of the imprisoned politicians said Thursday they were abandoning the prison hunger strike they started at the beginning of the month to call attention on what they considered unfair treatment by Spain’s judiciary. Activist-turned-politician Jordi Sanchez and former Catalan Cabinet member Jordi Turull went without food for 19 days, and ex-regional ministers Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn for 17.

Their spokeswoman, Pilar Calvo, said at a news conference the strike brought attention to the separatists’ plight and prompted Spain’s Constitutional Court to review some of their appeals. The four want to exhaust all their appeals in Spain so they can take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.


Parra reported from Madrid. AP reporter Jamey Keaten contributed to this story from Geneva.