Catalonia defiant as pressure mounts for it to stay in Spain

A placard - supporting Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows direct rule from Madrid and cancels the authority of autonomous regions - at a Barcelona rally championing the unity of Spain on Sunday.
A placard - supporting Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows direct rule from Madrid and cancels the authority of autonomous regions - at a Barcelona rally championing the unity of Spain on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Concerns raised over EU stability as Spain, separatists dig in heels

BARCELONA • Catalan leaders came under intense domestic and international pressure yesterday to halt plans to break away from Spain after the region's president repeated his threat to declare independence and the government warned that it would act to block it.

The sides dug in as the clock ticked down to an evening session in the regional Parliament today, where separatists have called for an independence declaration, a plan that has raised concerns for stability in the European Union.

Political leaders urged Catalan separatists to back down and ease Spain's worst political crisis in decades, with the leader of the opposition Socialists, Mr Pedro Sanchez, urging them to "stop everything" and respect the law.

And France said that Catalan independence would not receive international recognition. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards rallied on Sunday in a tide of red and yellow national flags in what is the worst upheaval since the country returned to democracy in the 1970s.

Regional president Carles Puigdemont said the vote justified secession and separatists urged him to declare independence in defiance of the central government and national courts. He will address the Catalan Parliament at 6pm today.

There is speculation that Mr Puigdemont may baulk at moving an independence motion today and call snap regional polls instead, turning it into a de facto, legal referendum on independence.

But he appeared resolute in a TV interview on Sunday, saying that the region's referendum law called for a declaration of independence in the event of a "yes" vote.

"We will apply what the law says," he said, according to a partial transcript released by TV3.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to rule out a constitutional manoeuvre suspending Catalonia's regional autonomy and imposing direct rule from Madrid. He has said repeatedly he will not talk to the Catalan leaders unless they drop their plans to declare independence.

Mr Puigdemont hinted on Sunday that the region would go ahead with the declaration if Madrid continued to refuse dialogue. "We have said yes to so many mediation options that have been proposed," he told Catalan television channel TV3. He added: "If the Spanish state does not give a positive response, we will do what we set out to do."

Such a move "will not go unanswered by the government", Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria warned yesterday, speaking on radio station Cope. "If this gentleman unilaterally declares independence, measures will have to be taken."

"I'm calling on the sensible people in the Catalan government... don't jump off the edge because you'll take the people with you," she said.

Ms Nathalie Loiseau, France's Minister for European affairs, warned yesterday that "if there were a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral and it wouldn't be recognised".

 

"This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics," she urged.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker held telephone talks with Mr Rajoy over the weekend.

Dr Merkel "affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain, and both sides exchanged views on ways in which internal Spanish dialogue can be boosted within the framework of the Constitution", said her spokesman, Mr Steffen Seibert.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Catalonia defiant as pressure mounts for it to stay in Spain'. Print Edition | Subscribe