- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MADRID (AP) - Spain’s prime minister on Wednesday compared secession efforts in the northeastern region of Catalonia to Britain’s tangled process of leaving the European Union, saying that both rely on confronting citizens with fake arguments.

In an address to lawmakers, Pedro Sanchez said both campaigns “invent a story of grievances and force people to choose between two identities.”

“They want to achieve polarization, denying space to moderation and understanding,” he added, listing a series of “lies” that, according to the Socialist leader, support the arguments of both Brexiteers and separatists.

Sanchez also announced that his cabinet will meet next week in Barcelona and will raise the country’s monthly minimum wage from 736 to 900 euros ($1,019).

The 22-percent salary hike is part of the Socialists’ deal to pass the country’s 2019 budget with the support of an anti-austerity party. Sanchez, whose minority government controls only 84 of the 350 parliamentary seats, also hopes that the plan’s social spending will make it difficult for separatist Catalan politicians to reject it in a vote scheduled for January.

“A rich country can’t afford to have poor workers,” Sanchez told lawmakers.

Taking the Dec. 21 meeting to the Catalan capital was also meant to signal the thawing of relations with the pro-independence regional authorities, but separatists there have called for protests amid mounting political tension.

Opposition leaders of the conservative Popular Party that was ousted from power earlier this year and the center-right Citizens party pushed for Sanchez to take a harder line on Catalonia. They want the prime minister to invoke a constitutional power that would allow central authorities to take over direct control of the restive region.

The Socialists, PP and Citizens parties backed former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a similar move last year, after Catalan separatist lawmakers passed a unilateral independence declaration but took no steps to implement it.

Catalan separatist lawmakers urged Sanchez to remain on the path of dialogue, but urged him to allow a self-determination vote in the prosperous region.

“With your hard line, you are pushing us back to disobedience,” said Joan Tarda, a lawmaker with the left-wing ERC, one of the Catalan parties that last year pushed ahead with a banned independence referendum.

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