INDEPENDENCE CHAIN REACTION

Catalan leader Mas "supports", but will not join, human chain for referendum

Officials may attend event, but as private citizens not government representatives

Barcelona -

Catalan premier Artur Mas will not be joining the pro-independence human chain planned for September 11, the Diada, or Catalonia Day, even though he fully supports the initiative, regional authorities have confirmed.

Instead, Mas will meet with the organizers of a pro-sovereignty event that drew hundreds of thousands of people last year, prompting the premier to call early elections and be more forceful about a potential referendum on independence.

Organized by two groups called Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, the human chain will support putting Catalan independence to the vote as early as 2014.

"We have conveyed to the organizers that the premier will see them on September 11 to express his positive assessment of their initiative," said Francesc Homs, spokesman for the Catalan government, which is run by the nationalist coalition CiU. The government's support for the human chain, said Homs, is "crystal clear."

A few high-ranking officials, including the mayor of Barcelona, are expected to show up at the event, though Homs stressed that they would be doing so as individual citizens, not government representatives.

Mas has worked hard to cast himself as the leading figure of nationalist sentiment since the massive popular march of last year. After calling early elections in a bid to secure an "overwhelming majority" as a show of force for his secessionist drive he was re-elected on November 25, although CiU lost 12 seats.

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