Spain sets Catalonia deadline to clarify stance on independence

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Spain’s prime minister has said the central government has given Catalonia’s leader a deadline of Monday to clarify whether he declared independence from Spain.

The Spanish Cabinet met in Madrid on Wednesday to work out its response to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence, further fueling Spain's worst political crisis in decades. Picture: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

The Spanish Cabinet met in Madrid on Wednesday to work out its response to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence, further fueling Spain's worst political crisis in decades. Picture: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

Mariano Rajoy said if Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s response is that he indeed has formally proclaimed independence, he will have a few more days to drop the implementation of the declaration.

Both deadlines have been included in a formal demand sent to the Catalan government.

Mr Rajoy announced the measure yesterday in a veiled threat to trigger a constitutional article that could end with the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomous powers.

Mr Rajoy had earlier stressed that Mr Puigdemont’s response would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days” and he said he “just needs to say he didn’t declare independence”.

The central government “wants to offer certainty to citizens” and it was “necessary to return tranquillity and calm”, he said following a special ­cabinet meeting.

Mr Rajoy’s demand was in response to Mr Puigdemont’s announcement that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence following the disputed secession referendum Catalonia held on 1 October, but suspending the move for several weeks to facilitate negotiations.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, the prime minister said the referendum was part of a strategy “to impose independence that few want and is good for nobody”.

The ensuing crisis, he said, was “one of the most difficult times in our recent history”.

Mr Rajoy said Catalan authorities broke the law by holding the referendum and incited street protests to give an appearance of legitimacy to the vote. He did not refer to the violence with which police cracked down on voting day, but said “nobody can be proud of the image” Spain projected, adding the only ones to blame were the separatist leaders.

Catalan lawyers, civil society groups and politicians in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain have offered to mediate between the two sides, but the prime minister rejected the offers while thanking those who made them.

“There is no possible mediation between democratic law and disobedience and unlawfulness,” Mr Rajoy said.

And he insisted: “There’s no constitution in the world that recognises the right to self-determination.”

In a highly anticipated speech on Tuesday night, Mr Puigdemont said the landslide victory in the disputed referendum gave his government in the regional capital, Barcelona, the grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain.

But he proposed the regional parliament suspend the declaration’s effects to leave room for dialogue and to help reduce tensions surrounding Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The central government in Madrid has given little indication it is willing to talk, saying it did not accept the declaration and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid.

Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they do not comply with their legal obligations.

This would begin with a cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.

About 2.3 million Catalans, or 43 per cent of the electorate in the wealthy north-eastern region, voted in the referendum.

Regional authorities said 90 per cent were in favour and declared the results valid.

Those who opposed the referendum had said they would boycott the vote.