Rajoy ready to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy
Spanish PM refuses to rule out constitutional move as rallies across country call for ‘less hate, more talk’
SPAIN’S prime minister said last night that he would not rule out suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy if its leaders continued to threaten a declaration of independence.
Mariano Rajoy’s statement came after thousands of white-clad protesters descended on Barcelona and cities across the country yesterday to call for urgent talks on the Catalonia crisis.
“I don’t rule out anything,” Mr Rajoy said in an interview in El Pais when asked about applying the constitutional provision that allows the suspension of Catalonia’s regional autonomy.
“But I must do things at the proper time … I would like the threat of an independence referendum to be withdrawn as quickly as possible,” he added.
A week after the banned independence referendum – dismissed as an illegal “farce” by Madrid – yielded a 90per cent “Yes” vote, rallies in cities throughout Spain urged political leaders to sit down at the negotiating table.
In Madrid, protesters raised a white flag in front of the city hall, waving signs urging “less hate and more conversation” and “less batons, more telephone calls”.
In marked contrast to the sea of Spanish flags at a rally less than a mile away, where demonstrators insisted there would be “no dialogue with putschists”, many at the “Let’s talk” demonstration blamed the schism on both sides. “Neither of the parties are managing this well,” said couple Vicen and Fernando. Guillermo Fernández, an organiser of the initiative, said political leaders were displaying a lack of will to talk. “We don’t want them to infuse us with hate, we want peace and not hate, so if they don’t sit down we will keep coming back until they do,” he said.
But with a unilateral declaration of independence expected this week, hopes of dialogue are fading. Mr Rajoy sought to reassure Spaniards, saying in the interview published last night that if an independence declaration was made it would not have any effect.
“The government will ensure that any declaration of independence will lead to nothing,” he told El Pais. He also urged moderate Catalan nationalists to distance themselves from the “radicals” in the separatist camp who were pushing hardest for an independence move. On Friday, he insisted the declaration be dropped as a precondition for talks, a suggestion dismissed by the Catalan government.
Opponents of independence are urging Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, while radical supporters demand a hard exit from Spain. The hard-left CUP, a junior partner in the pro-independence alliance, insisted last week on a declaration by parliament tomorrow in a session that Spain’s constitutional court ordered suspended.
Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, has asked to appear on Tuesday instead to evaluate results but the CUP has called for a snap declaration. The party has only 10 parliamentarians but is crucial to the regional coalition.
Eulalia Reguant, a CUP representative, proposed seizing territorial control of the region, including its ports and airports. “This parliament has made a lot of declarations that afterwards have come to nothing,” she said.
Mr Puigdemont has always rejected a traumatic rupture with Spain, seeing a unilateral declaration of independence as a starting point for dialogue.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Joan Maria Piqué, the Catalan spokesman, denied any “controversy” over the expected declaration and dismissed the notion that the government retained hopes of a deal with Madrid, adding: “We always said the referendum was binding and it is going to be.”
‘Let’s talk’ marchers in Barcelona yesterday