Spain Plans Response To Catalan Independence Move
MADRID (Dispatches) - The Spanish cabinet was meeting on Wednesday 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 remote.
The fraught situation became even more confused on Tuesday night when Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain but then immediately suspended it to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
Such a declaration had been widely expected after the Catalan government said 90 percent of Catalans voted for a breakaway in an Oct. 1 referendum that Spain had declared illegal and which most opponents of independence boycotted.
But Spain responded angrily to Puigdemont’s speech, saying the Catalan government could not act on the results of the referendum.
“Neither Mr. 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 on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke to other political parties on Tuesday 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 climbdown appeared to lessen the immediate risk of a head-on confrontation between the Catalan and Madrid governments, Spanish media said it was still possible Rajoy could take strong measures, including 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,” Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told Catalunya Radio.
“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,” he said.