Supporters of Catalan independence were left caught between elation and confusion after their regional leader Carles Puigdemont accepted the "mandate of the people" but proposed suspending its immediate implementation to allow for dialogue

Barcelona (AFP) - When she heard Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont utter the word “independence” Merce shed tears of emotion – whereas Sergio scowled with disdain.

Puigdemont’s Barcelona speech whipped up plenty of fervour among both supporters and rivals, but elation was mixed with confusion.

There was joy among thousands of Puigdemont backers, who stood draped in Catalan flags at the foot of Barcelona’s triumphal arch, as they followed his address on a giant screen.

When he said Catalans had earned independence with their October 1 referendum, which Madrid has dismissed as illegal, Merce Hernandez, 36, let the tears flow.

“What emotion – a historic day. I am satisfied,” she told AFP.

Pensioner Albert Llorens, said he found Puigdemont’s speech “perfect, what I was expecting.”

And yet, Puigdemont, having accepted “the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent republic” after the disputed referendum then asked the Catalan parliament to “suspend the effects of the independence declaration to initiate dialogue in the coming weeks.”

Sergio Palacios, a waiter in the Nou Barris district of the city whose residents mostly prefer to stick with Spain, was less than enthralled by the speech.

“When I heard Puigdemont talk about the ‘republic’ I held my head in my hands,” he told AFP.

“Until now there was no problem but now the gulf is wider” between secessionists and the pro-Madrid camp.

Labourer Jose Luis Gutierrez said tartly, “it is an illegal referendum, they could apply article 155 (imposing direct rule from Madrid), so the citizens are afraid of what can happen.”

Student Marc Cazes said: “I did not expect independence to be declared today because of all the processes that the government of Spain has begun, both with police actions and with threats and the possible application of (article) 155.”

Maria Rosa Bertran, an unemployed Barcelona resident, admitted the confusion weighing on her mind.

“I find it even worse because this is prolonging the agony, indecision and uncertainty is the worst thing that can happen to us.

“The companies have left, the banks are gone, we are all going to see what will happen,” she said, referring to recent announcements by several major companies they are moving their official headquarters out of the area.

- Ambiguity -

“Deep down, we are happy – but we were expecting more”, said Pere Valldeneu, 66, who listened to Puigdemont’s address with his wife Antonia, 64.

“Nothing will happen as Madrid will not permit it,” he complained.

Sheila Ulldemolins, 28, summed up the feelings of many by noting that “that was a very ambiguous speech.”

Although an overwhelming majority of those who voted on October 1 backed independence – many pro-unity Catalans did not participate – Puigdemont has been under intense pressure from Madrid, which has insisted the referendum process was unconstitutional and illegal.

Feelings have run high on both sides, plunging Spain into its deepest crisis since the 1977 return of democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Polls show that Catalans themselves are deeply divided on the issue of independence – some show a majority reject the idea.