Spain gives Catalans till Oct 19 to clarify independence stance
"The government regrets that the president of the Catalan government has decided not to respond to the request made by the government,"
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told a news conference, adding "what was asked and what we are asking for is clarity."
In response to a deadline set by the central government to clarify an ambiguous independence speech last week, Puigdemont wrote a letter calling for talks to settle Spain’s worst political crisis in a generation.
Madrid has threatened to impose direct rule over semi-autonomous Catalonia if it declares independence based on a hotly-disputed Oct. 1 referendum.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis also slammed Puigdemont, saying that he didn’t give Madrid the clear answer it wanted over whether or not he has declared independence.
“It’s clear Mr Puigdemont has not responded, has not given the clarity we asked of him,” said Dastis on arriving for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
“I think it [the letter] does not constitute a response to the formal request” for clarity made by the Spanish government, he said.
Dastis said he thought the letter showed that “the most radical elements” had the upper hand in the Catalan administration.
In the letter Puigdemont refused to say whether he had declared independence from Spain, calling for a meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to settle the crisis “as soon as possible.”
However, he stopped short of giving a definitive “yes or no” as demanded by Madrid after his ambiguous independence speech last week.
In a letter addressed to the premier, Puigdemont wrote: “for the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue.”
European Union officials are keeping a close eye on developments amid fears that Catalan independence could put further strain on the bloc as it grapples with Britain’s shock decision to leave.
Puigdemont had told regional lawmakers he was ready for Catalonia to “become an independent state” following a secession referendum that went ahead despite a court ban.
But he immediately said he was suspending proceedings to allow time for negotiations with Madrid.
Puigdemont and some separatist allies want mediation with Madrid over the fate of the 7.5 million-strong region, an idea the central government says is a non-starter.
In his letter, the separatist leader wrote that his “suspension of the political mandate given by the polls on Oct. 1 demonstrates our firm will to find a solution and not confrontation.”
“Let’s not let the situation deteriorate further. With good will, recognising the problem and facing it head on, I am sure we can find the path to a solution,” he wrote.
In the run-up to the Oct. 16 deadline, Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said Madrid wanted a full climb-down from Puigdemont but was prepared for another indefinite response from the Catalan president.
“If that’s the case, that will show that he doesn’t want dialogue and so the Spanish government will need to take necessary measures to return to normality,” Zoido told reporters at the weekend.