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’

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By Hannah Strange in Barcelona

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

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