Madrid, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday asked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to clarify whether he has actually declared independence as Madrid considers the unprecedented step of suspending the region’s autonomy.
Rajoy held a press conference following an emergency cabinet meeting convened the morning after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told his Parliament that “Catalonia had won the right to become independent” but that he would “suspend an official declaration for some weeks” to allow for talks with Madrid.
Rajoy accused Puigdemont of creating “deliberate confusion” and said that the Spanish government needed to know whether or not he had declared the northeastern region independent from Spain, BBC reported.
The Spanish Prime Minister said his government would base its response on the answer it was given, including any measures it might take invoking a constitutional clause allowing for direct rule.
Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution would allow Rajoy to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid.
“This call — ahead of any of the measures that the government may adopt under Article 155 of our Constitution — seeks to offer citizens the clarity and security that a question of such importance requires,” Rajoy said.
Rajoy said the ball was now firmly back in Puigdemont’s court. “The Catalan President’s answer to these questions will inform what happens over the next few days,” he said.
“If Puigdemont demonstrates a willingness to respect the law and re-establish institutional normality, we could bring a close to a period of instability tension, and the breakdown of co-existence.
“We must put an urgent end to the situation in Catalonia. There must be a return to normality and calm as swiftly as possible.”
Rajoy will address Parliament later in the day and would be the first Spanish Prime Minister to take the drastic step of invoking 155, the Guardian reported.
Spain has been in turmoil since a disputed referendum in Catalonia on October 1 was declared invalid by the country’s Constitutional Court.
Addressing the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said: “We call on international states and organisations to recognise the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state.”
He said the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid, but he also said he wanted to “de-escalate” the tension around the issue. Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence but halted its implementation to allow negotiations.
However, the Spanish government rejected his calls for mediation.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria described Puigdemont as someone “who does not know where he is, where he’s going”.
About 90 per cent of participants voted in favour of splitting from Spain in the referendum. But it was marred by violence after Spanish police acting on court orders attempted to stop the vote by raiding polling stations, seizing ballot boxes, beating voters and firing rubber bullets at crowds.
Ahead of Puigdemont’s address on Tuesday, influential figures including Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau and European Council President Donald Tusk had urged him to step back from declaring independence.
The European Union made it clear that if Catalonia split from Spain, the region would cease to be part of the EU.