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BARCELONA: Spanish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy on Wed­nes­day gave the Cata­lan govern­ment eight days to drop an in­de­pen­dence bid, fail­ing which he would sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy and rule the re­gion di­rectly.

His move could deepen the con­fronta­tion between Madrid and the north­east­ern re­gion but also sig­nals a way out of Spain’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since a failed mil­i­tary coup in 1981.

Ra­joy would prob­a­bly call a snap re­gional elec­tion af­ter ac­ti­vat­ing Ar­ti­cle 155 of the con­sti­tu­tion that would al­low him to sack the Cata­lan re­gional govern­ment.

Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont is­sued a sym­bolic dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Spain on Tues­day night but then im­me­di­ately sus­pended it and called for ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Madrid govern­ment.

“The cabi­net has agreed this morn­ing to for­mally re­quest the Cata­lan govern­ment to con­firm whether it has de­clared the in­de­pen­dence of Cat­alo­nia, re­gard­less of the de­lib­er­ate con­fu­sion cre­ated over its im­ple­men­ta­tion,” Ra­joy said in a tele­vised ad­dress af­ter a cabi­net meet­ing called to con­sider the govern­ment’s re­sponse.

He later told Spain’s par­lia­ment the Cata­lan govern­ment had un­til Mon­day, Oct. 16 at 0800 GMT to an­swer. If Puigde­mont was to con­firm he did de­clare in­de­pen­dence, he would be given an ad­di­tional three days to rec­tify it, un­til Thurs­day, Oct. 19 at 0800 GMT. Fail­ing this, Ar­ti­cle 155 would be trig­gered.

It is not yet clear if the Cata­lan govern­ment will an­swer the re­quire­ment but it now faces a co­nun­drum, an­a­lysts say.

If Puigde­mont says he did pro­claim in­de­pen­dence, the cen­tral govern­ment will step in. If he says he did not de­clare it, then far-left party CUP would prob­a­bly with­draw its sup­port for his mi­nor­ity govern­ment.

“Ra­joy has two ob­jec­tives: if Puigde­mont re­mains am­bigu­ous, the pro-in­de­pen­dence move­ment will get more frag­mented; if Puigde­mont in­sists on defending in­de­pen­dence then Ra­joy will be able to ap­ply Ar­ti­cle 155,” said An­to­nio Bar­roso, deputy di­rec­tor of the Lon­don-based re­search firm Te­neo In­tel­li­gence.

“Ei­ther way, Ra­joy’s aim would be to first re­store the rule of law in Cat­alo­nia and this could at some point lead to early elec­tions in the re­gion.”

The stakes are high - los­ing Cat­alo­nia, which has its own lan­guage and cul­ture, would de­prive Spain of a fifth of its eco­nomic out­put and more than a quar­ter of ex­ports.

Puigde­mont had been widely ex­pected to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare Cat­alo­nia’s in­de­pen­dence on Tues­day af­ter the Cata­lan govern­ment said 90 per­cent of Cata­lans had voted for a break­away in an Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum. Cen­tral au­thor­i­ties in Madrid had de­clared the ref­er­en­dum il­le­gal and most op­po­nents of in­de­pen­dence boy­cotted it, re­duc­ing turnout to around 43 per­cent.

Madrid re­sponded an­grily to Puigde­mont’s speech to Cat­alo­nia’s par­lia­ment, say­ing his 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 Saenz de San­ta­maria said.

In­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 155 to ease Spain’s worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in four decades would make prospects of a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion even more re­mote.

A spokesman for the Cata­lan govern­ment in Barcelona said ear­lier on Wed­nes­day that if Madrid went down this road, it would press ahead with steps to­wards state­hood.

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