(Reuters/NAN) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday demanded that the Catalan regional government clarify whether it has formally declared independence before Madrid takes any steps to take over control of the autonomous region.
The Spanish cabinet are to decide its response to Catalan moves to declare independence, but the prospect of dialogue to ease Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades already seemed isolated.
The fraught situation became more confused on Tuesday when Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain and instantly suspended it to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
Such a declaration had been widely expected after the Catalan government said that 90 per cent of Catalans voted for a breakaway in an Oct. 1 referendum that Spain had declared illegal and most opponents of independence boycotted.
However, Spain responded angrily to Puigdemont’s speech, saying that the Catalan government could not act on the results of the referendum.
“Neither Puigdemont nor anyone else can claim, without returning to legality and democracy, to impose mediation.
“Dialogue between democrats takes place within the law,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya de-Santamaria said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke to other political parties to seek the greatest possible support for the government’s response.
Puigdemont’s speech also disappointed supporters of independence, thousands of whom watched proceedings on giant screens outside parliament before sadly leaving for home.
Financial markets, however, were encouraged that an immediate declaration of independence had been avoided.
Although Puigdemont’s climb-down appeared to lessen the immediate risk of a head-on confrontation between the Catalan and Madrid governments, Spanish media said it was still possible that Rajoy could take strong measures.
This includes possibly suspending Catalonia’s autonomy and forcing new regional elections.
The Catalan government said if Madrid invoked this option, using Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, it would press ahead with independence.
“If the government implements 155, it means there is no willingness for dialogue and so obviously we would have to be consistent with our commitment to the people of Catalonia.
“We have given up absolutely nothing.
“We have taken a time out which doesn’t mean a step backwards, or a renunciation or anything like that,” Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said.