An ultimatum for Catalonia

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
An ultimatum for Catalonia

The Spanish government will take control of Catalonia if regional leader Carles Puigdemont replies ambiguously to Madrid’s question about whether he has declared independence from Spain.

“The answer must be without any ambiguity. He must say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said in an interview.

“If he answers ambiguously, it means he does not want dialogue and thus the Spanish government will have to take action,” he added.

Why has he said this?

Because Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, only to suspend it seconds later and call for negotiations with Madrid on the region’s future.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given him until Monday to clarify his position, threatening to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if he chooses independence.

Puigdemont’s tough dilemma

Puigdemont faces a tough dilemma.

If he says he did proclaim independence, the central government will step in.

If he says he did not declare it, then the far-left Catalan party CUP would probably withdraw its support for his minority government.

CUP on Friday called on Puigdemont to make an unequivocal declaration of independence in defiance of the Madrid government’s deadlines.

Such a hardline position has also been backed by influential pro-independence civic group Asamblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan
National Assembly).

They were joined on Saturday by another key member of Puigdemont’s coalition, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, whose leader Oriol Junqueras said they should press ahead with splitting from Spain following an independence vote.

The details

The Catalan government said 90% of Catalans had voted for a breakaway in a referendum on October 1 that central authorities in Madrid had declared illegal.

Turnout was around 43 percent.

“We have an unequivocal and absolute commitment to fulful the democratic mandate from October 1”, Junqueras said.

Under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the central government in Madrid can suspend the political autonomy of a region if it breaks the law.

This article, which enables Rajoy to sack the Catalan government and call a regional election, has never been activated since the constitution was adopted in 1974 after the death of Francisco Franco.