Spain to seek suspension of Catalonia's autonomy unless leader backs down
If separatist leader Carles Puigdemont does not provide a satisfactory response, "Mr Puigdemont will provoke the application of article 155 of the constitution," Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told parliament.
This provision of the constitution, which has never been used before, would open the way for Madrid to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region.
Triggering it could represent a drastic escalation of Spain's worst political crisis in decades which was sparked when Catalonia held a banned independence referendum on Oct. 1.
Puigdemont declared independence following the poll which he says resulted in a 90 percent "yes" vote, though turnout was only 43 percent as many supporters of Spanish unity stayed away in a region that is deeply divided on the issue.
But the Catalan leader said he was "suspending" independence to allow time for talks with the government -- a prospect Madrid has rejected, leaving the country in limbo.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given Puigdemont until today to come up with a definitive answer on the independence question, or face the consequences.
“All I ask of Mr Puigdemont is that he acts with good sense," Rajoy told parliament yesterday.
The premier would need Senate approval to trigger article 155, but his conservative Popular Party has a majority there.
The move could ultimately allow Madrid to suspend the regional government and eventually trigger new elections for Catalonia, but such a move risks inflaming tensions in the region even further.
Also yesterday, about 50 Spanish and Catalan party lawmakers have held up posters in Spain’s parliament demanding the release of two pro-Catalonia independence movement leaders, describing them as political prisoners.
Yesterday’s protest in Madrid lasted around 15 seconds before the lawmakers heeded warnings that they were out of order and sat down.
The demonstration was over Oct. 16 jailing of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the Catalan grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, in a sedition investigation.
A day earlier, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona, shouting “freedom” or “independence” and carrying candles.
Around 200,000 people took part, a spokesman for Barcelona’s municipal police said.
Candle-lit demonstrations were also held in Girona, Reus and other Catalan cities in protest at keeping Cuixart and Sanchez behind bars.
Manchester City’s Catalan manager Pep Guardiola dedicated his team’s 2-1 win over Napoli in the Champions League on Oct. 17 to the detained pair.
“We have shown in Catalonia that citizenship is bigger than any ideas. We hope they will be released soon,” he said.