Catalan republic to start talking
Independence held off to enable talks with Madrid
BARCELONA — Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont yesterday proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain, but said its effects would be suspended to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
“I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic ... I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution,” Puigdemont told the regional parliament in Barcelona.
Though Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown. The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy” if the parliament of the autonomous and affluent northeastern region presses ahead.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could take the unprecedented step of dissolving the Catalan parliament and triggering new regional elections, the socalled “nuclear option”. The Madrid government could also ask the courts to strike down a declaration of independence as unconstitutional.
Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.
During the day, Catalan police armed with automatic rifles stood guard at Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella which houses the elegant 18th century building. Spanish national po lice, decried by separatists over their use of force to hinder an October 1 referendum, were not to be seen.
Thousands of national police reinforcements sent by Madrid for the referendum remain in the area, many in two cruise ships docked in the harbour.
Proindependence demonstrators gathered before the parliament building under the slogan “Hello Republic” to mark Puigdemont’s speech at 6 pm.
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Barcelona against independence at the weekend, waving redyellow Spanish flags through the city centre. That rally fell a week after some 900 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and stormed crowds with truncheons to disrupt a referendum ruled illegal in Madrid.
The European Commission repeated its call for dialogue in Spain to end the crisis in Catalonia.
Puigdemont has also called for talks and international mediation, but Rajoy has said he will not negotiate with the Catalan leaders unless they abandon plans to declare independence.
Markets have been rattled by the Catalan crisis and several corporates have moved from Catelonia to Madrid.
The issue has deeply divided the northeastern region as well as the Spanish nation. Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested a minority of around 40% of Catalonians backed independence.
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.
The crisis has reopened old divisions in a nation where the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who died in 1975, is easily revived by strong displays of nationalism.
Crowds gather to watch the President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, address the Catalan Parliament at the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain, yesterday.