Spain threat­ens to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy in cri­sis

Ra­joy vows to do ev­ery­thing to pre­vent Cata­lan se­ces­sion


MADRID: Spain threat­ened on Wednesday to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy if it fol­lows through on its threat to break away as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy has vowed to do ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent Cata­lan se­ces­sion fol­low­ing a banned ref­er­en­dum in the re­gion, which re­mains deeply di­vided over in­de­pen­dence.

He held an emer­gency Cab­i­net meet­ing after Cat­alo­nia’s pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont an­nounced on Tues­day that he had ac­cepted the man­date for “Cat­alo­nia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state.”

Ra­joy asked the Cata­lan leader to clar­ify whether he had ac­tu­ally de­clared in­de­pen­dence, which could trig­ger moves by Madrid to sus­pend the re­gion’s semi-au­ton­o­mous sta­tus.

The Cata­lan cri­sis is Spain’s most se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal emer­gency since its re­turn to democ­racy four decades ago.

World lead­ers are watch­ing closely and un­cer­tainty over the fate of the re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has dam­aged busi­ness con­fi­dence.

Puigde­mont said the ref­er­en­dum had given him a man­date for in­de­pen­dence but im­me­di­ately asked regional law­mak­ers to sus­pend the dec­la­ra­tion to al­low for ne­go­ti­a­tions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“The Cab­i­net agreed this morn­ing to for­mally ask the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment to con­firm whether it de­clared in­de­pen­dence,” he said in a tele­vised ad­dress after emer­gency Cab­i­net talks.

“The an­swer from the Cata­lan pres­i­dent will de­ter­mine fu­ture events, in the next few days,” Ra­joy said.

“The gov­ern­ment wants to of­fer cer­tainty to Spa­niards, es­pe­cially Cata­lans. It wants to avoid the con­fu­sion that has been gen­er­ated by Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties.”

Ra­joy could choose to trig­ger con­sti­tu­tion article 155, which al­lows Madrid to im­pose con­trol over its de­volved re­gions — a move many fear could lead to un­rest.

The leader of the op­po­si­tion So­cial­ist Party, Pe­dro Sanchez, said mean­while that his side and the gov­ern­ment had agreed to study a pos­si­ble con­sti­tu­tional re­form” to try to end the cri­sis.

The de­bate would fo­cus on “how Cat­alo­nia re­mains in Spain, and not how it leaves,” Sanchez told re­porters.

While sep­a­ratist lead­ers say 90 per­cent of vot­ers opted to split from Spain in the Oc­to­ber plebiscite, less than half of the re­gion’s el­i­gi­ble vot­ers ac­tu­ally turned out.

The drive to break Cat­alo­nia away from Spain has raised con­cern for sta­bil­ity in a Euro­pean Union still com­ing to terms with Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

The EU on Wednesday urged “full re­spect of the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tional or­der,” with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion vice pres­i­dent Valdis Dom­brovskis say­ing the bloc was fol­low­ing de­vel­op­ments “closely.”

Crowds of thou­sands gath­ered out­side the Par­lia­ment build­ing in Barcelona on Tues­day ahead of Puigde­mont’s speech, wav­ing Cata­lan flags and ban­ners and scream­ing “democ­racy” in the hope of wit­ness­ing his­tory in the mak­ing.

But Spain’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment rounded on Puigde­mont fol­low­ing his dec­la­ra­tion, and sup­port among sep­a­ratists in Cat­alo­nia was mixed.

Barcelona res­i­dent Maria Rosa Ber­tran said she was against a de­layed se­ces­sion, which meant “suf­fer­ing a longer agony. In­de­ci­sion and un­cer­tainty is the worst thing that can hap­pen to us,” she told AFP.

The gov­ern­ment stuck to its stance that it would not ac­cept me­di­a­tion or any talks un­til Cata­lan lead­ers drop their in­de­pen­dence bid.

Spain's Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy gives a press con­fer­ence after a cri­sis Cab­i­net meet­ing at the Mon­cloa Palace on Wednesday in Madrid. (AFP)

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