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Catalonia's president, Quim Torra, referred to the Catalan president in exile Carles Puigdemont and the imprisoned and exiled members of his government as he began his speech to Spanish king Felipe VI at the inaugural dinner for the Mobile World Congress this Sunday evening.

He made the reference during a brief address in English that he gave to those present, before the dinner which the directors of the mobile conference and members of the Spanish and Catalan governments shared in the oval hall of the Catalonia National Art Museum (MNAC) in Barcelona.

"Two  years  ago,  it  was  President  Puigdemont  who gave  you  the  welcome speech. Therefore I would like to remember him and the members of his government, that cannot be with us today," said the president at the start of his discourse. Torra's jacket was adorned with a large golden ribbon, symbol of solidarity with the pro-independence political leaders he was referring to.

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The president explained that Catalonia's "will to exist" had shaped part of its identity. For this reason, he said, Catalonia is a country that values democracy "above all", and defends universal human rights as well as civil and collective rights, which have always been a "constant struggle for the Catalan people." "We will never renounce the principles of Pau Casals," affirmed Torra, saying the Catalonia is "a country defined by culture, talent and freedom."

Having quoted architect Le Corbusier's observation that "Barcelona was an open port to the past and the future," Torra concluded his short speech by asserting the importance of the past in reaching the future: "We have confidence in the future because we know where we come from and, rooted in this land, we know where we want to go," said the Catalan president.

Speaking to a largely business-oriented audience, the president assured that despite the "months of upheaval" in the country, Catalan society, companies and institutions "have not stopped moving forward"

The Spanish head of state reacted coolly to Torra's speech. The two were seated opposite each other at the presidential table and avoided eye contact while the cameras were inside the dinner hall. Earlier, Torra and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau had left the MNAC reception hall as Felipe VI arrived in order to avoid taking part in the formal protocol greeting to the king. An institutional conflict has raged between the Catalan authorities and the Spanish monarchy since Felipe's controversial positioning on the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.