Sworn in as Spain's leader, Sanchez faces Catalan conundrum

MADRID-Spain lifted direct rule in Catalonia on Saturday after regional government leaders were sworn in, concluding an unprecedented attempt by Madrid to contain a separatist push that threatened to splinter the country.

Catalonia has sworn in a new government, automatically ending a seven-month takeover by Spain's central authorities following a failed secession bid by the restive region.

Spain's King Felipe VI, left, with Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was sworn in at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, on Saturday.

Mr Torra said at the swearing-in ceremony that his government was committed to advancing towards an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic.

Not even two hours after Sanchez had taken his oath to uphold the Spanish Constitution, Catalan chief Quim Torra demanded to meet with Sanchez and speak "government to government" regarding the future of the restive northeastern region.

"President Pedro Sanchez let's talk, let's deal with this question, let's take risks, you and us. We need to sit around the same table and negotiate, government to government", he said.

Autonomy was suspended after Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence last October, which was declared illegal in the courts.

He has already said he would stick to the 2018 budget crafted by Rajoy's conservatives.

Separatists won a December election and chose fervent separatist Quim Torra as regional chief.

Sanchez, who secured the backing of an unlikely alliance of mainstream Socialists, hard-leftists and Catalan and Basque nationalists to bring down Rajoy, has the slimmest parliamentary majority since the birth of Spanish democracy in 1975. Emotional contributions were also made to the region's leader in exile, Carles Puigdemont, and other jailed pro-independence figures.