Ul­ti­ma­tum to Cat­alo­nia: Back down or be pun­ished

The Mercury News - - News - By Ciaran Giles and Aritz Parra

Spanish au­thor­i­ties gave Cat­alo­nia’s sep­a­ratist leader five days to ex­plain whether his am­bigu­ous state­ment on se­ces­sion was a for­mal dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence and warned Wed­nes­day that his an­swer dic­tated whether they would ap­ply never-used con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to cur­tail the re­gion’s au­ton­omy.

Threat­en­ing to in­voke a sec­tion of the Spanish Con­sti­tu­tion to as­sert con­trol over the coun­try’s rogue re­gion, Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy said Cata­lan pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont’s re­sponse to the cen­tral govern­ment’s ul­ti­ma­tum would be cru­cial in de­cid­ing “events over the com­ing days.”

Puigde­mont an­nounced on Tues­day that he was us­ing the vic­tory in a banned Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum to pro­ceed with a dec­la­ra­tion of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence, but pro­posed freez­ing its im­ple­men­ta­tion for a few weeks to al­low for di­a­logue and me­di­a­tion with the govern­ment in Madrid.

His equiv­o­cal po­si­tion seemed de­signed to ap­pease the most fer­vent sep­a­ratists, but also to build sup­port — both in Cat­alo­nia and in­ter­na­tion­ally — by pro­vok­ing an­other tough re­sponse from Ra­joy’s Cabi­net. Spanish po­lice used force to try to stop the ref­er­en­dum vote, pro­duc­ing im­ages that elicited sym­pa­thy for the sep­a­ratists.

Speak­ing in the na­tional par­lia­ment in Madrid on Wed­nes­day, Ra­joy said the ref­er­en­dum Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional par­lia­ment and Puigde­mont’s govern­ment held in vi­o­la­tion of a court or­der was il­le­gal and part of a strat­egy “to im­pose in­de­pen­dence that few want and is good for no­body.”

The en­su­ing cri­sis, he said, was “one of the most dif­fi­cult times in our re­cent his­tory.”

Ra­joy, whose govern­ment has been un­der fire for the po­lice vi­o­lence, blamed the Cata­lan sep­a­ratists for in­cit­ing re­cent street protests and said that “no­body can be proud of the im­age” Spain has pro­jected to the rest of the world with the ref­er­en­dum.

Lawyers, civil so­ci­ety groups and politi­cians in Cat­alo­nia and else­where in Spain have of­fered to me­di­ate between the two sides, but the prime min­is­ter re­jected the of­fers. He said he re­fused to en­gage in di­a­logue with a dis­obey­ing Cata­lan govern­ment.

“There is no pos­si­ble me­di­a­tion between demo­cratic law and dis­obe­di­ence and un­law­ful­ness,” Ra­joy said, throw­ing the ball back to the Barcelona-based Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties for the next move.

If Puigde­mont replies be­fore Mon­day that he in­deed pro­claimed in­de­pen­dence with his Tues­day an­nounce­ment, he would have three more days to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to a for­mal de­mand sub­mit­ted by the cen­tral govern­ment Wed­nes­day. That would mean aban­don­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of the dec­la­ra­tion Cata­lan sep­a­ratist law­mak­ers signed es­tab­lish­ing a new Cata­lan repub­lic, the govern­ment said.

A re­fusal to back­track or pro­vid­ing no re­sponse will lead Madrid to trig­ger Ar­ti­cle 155 of the Spanish Con­sti­tu­tion, which al­lows cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to take some or to­tal con­trol of any of the coun­try’ 17 re­gions if they rebel or don’t com­ply with their le­gal obli­ga­tions.

The warn­ing is­sued Wed­nes­day was the first step re­quired be­fore Ra­joy’s Cabi­net can in­voke the ar­ti­cle for ap­proval from the Sen­ate, where Ra­joy’s rul­ing Pop­u­lar Party has an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity.

The mea­sure has never been in­voked dur­ing the nearly four decades since the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion re­stored democ­racy in post­dic­ta­tor­ship Spain.

The cen­tral govern­ment “wants to of­fer cer­tainty to ci­ti­zens,” Ra­joy said, adding that it was “nec­es­sary to re­turn tran­quil­ity and calm.”

Marta Ri­vas, a re­gional law­maker with the Cat­alo­nia Si Que es Pot anti-es­tab­lish­ment party, warned that ap­ply­ing Ar­ti­cle 155 to curb the re­gion’s au­ton­omy could back­fire and pro­duce more protests.

“If the Spanish state re­peats its ac­tions and en­forces the clause, we will be in full con­fronta­tion with the state,” Ri­vas said.

About 2.3 mil­lion Cata­lans, or 43 per­cent of the elec­torate in the north­east re­gion, voted in the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. Re­gional au­thor­i­ties say 90 per­cent fa­vored se­ces­sion and de­clared the re­sults valid. Op­po­nents of the ref­er­en­dum be­ing held had said they would boy­cott the vote.

Ra­joy’s govern­ment pre­vi­ously had re­fused to grant Cat­alo­nia per­mis­sion to hold a ref­er­en­dum on the grounds that it would only poll a por­tion of Spain’s 46 mil­lion res­i­dents and was there­fore un­con­sti­tu­tional.


Spain’s Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, left, speaks to the press Wed­nes­day at the Mon­cloa Palace in Madrid. Right, Cata­lan re­gional Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont signs an in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion doc­u­ment Tues­day in Barcelona.

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