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.

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