Catalan leader faces pressure to drop plans to secede

Members of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, on guard yesterday outside Barcelona's Citadel Park, which is home to the Catalan Parliament. If Mr Puigdemont makes a statement that falls short of immediate independence, Madrid may stay i
From left: Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, President Carles Puigdemont and Regional Minister Jordi Turull arriving for their Cabinet meeting in Barcelona yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
From far left: Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, President Carles Puigdemont and Regional Minister Jordi Turull arriving for their Cabinet meeting in Barcelona yesterday.
Members of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, on guard yesterday outside Barcelona’s Citadel Park, which is home to the Catalan Parliament. If Mr Puigdemont makes a statement that falls short of immediate independence, Madrid may stay its hand.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He has to follow the will of the people after the results of the Oct 1 referendum, he says

MADRID • Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said early today that he had the mandate to seek independence for Catalonia and called for dialogue with Spain.

Addressing the regional Parliament in Barcelona, he said the results of the Oct 1 referendum that overwhelmingly backed independence meant he had to follow the will of the people.

Avoiding a call for immediate independence, he called on the regional Parliament to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence to hold talks, saying the current relationship with Spain was unsustainable and that a new understanding with Madrid was needed.

He said the “conflict” with Spain could be resolved in a negotiated way and that it was worth exploring international mediation.

Mr Puigdemont had been under growing pressure to drop plans to declare independence from Spain. Late yesterday, Madrid and the European Union warned him against declaring independence.

Spanish police were ready to arrest Mr Puigdemont immediately if he made such a declaration, The Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the government’s plans.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to use all the legal means at his disposal to prevent Catalonia seceding, and has deployed thousands of national police in cruise ships in the Port of Barcelona.

Mr Rajoy has remained vague on whether he would take the unprecedented step of triggering Article 155 of the Constitution, the so-called nuclear option which enables him to sack the regional government and call a local election.

“We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration,” Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.

EU president Donald Tusk also urged Mr Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.

Mr Rajoy all along has said he will use only proportionate force in dealing with the separatist government in Barcelona.

Even so, prosecutors have been exploring charges of sedition against other separatist leaders,  including Mr Jordi Sanchez, head of the biggest pro-independence campaign group.

Sedition carries a jail term of up to 15 years.

The national police and civil guard have sufficient officers in place to overcome any resistance they might meet, according to a source familiar with the government’s preparations, who asked not to be named as the plans were meant to be confidential, The Washington Post reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Catalan leader faces pressure to drop plans to secede'. Print Edition | Subscribe