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.