BARCELONA/MADRID • Catalonia will move as soon as this weekend to declare independence from Spain after a contentious referendum, the region's leader has said, in the worst constitutional crisis for the country since an attempted military coup in 1981.
"We are to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results (of the referendum) are counted," Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said in remarks posted on the BBC website yesterday.
"This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and therefore, we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week."
The clash between Madrid and the rebel administration in Barcelona is escalating after King Felipe, whose word traditionally carries weight in Spain, sought to impose his authority in a televised statement on Tuesday night.
He condemned the "unacceptable disloyalty" of the Catalan leaders and vowed to keep Spain together. The Catalan leaders "have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state", he said.
But Junts pel Si and CUP, the parties holding the majority of seats in the regional Parliament, have asked for a debate and vote on independence from Spain on Monday, a spokesman for the assembly said.
Mr Puigdemont was scheduled to speak late last night on Catalan television. "I already feel as a president of a free country where millions of people have made an important decision," he said in an interview with German newspaper Bild that is to be published today.
It's time to talk, finding a way out of the impasse, working within the constitutional order of Spain.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION VICE-PRESIDENT FRANS TIMMERMANS
Pro-independence parties hold a slim majority of seats in the regional government, meaning that a declaration of independence will be a formality. Participants in Sunday's ballot - only about 43 per cent of eligible voters - opted overwhelmingly for independence.
The threat of secession by Catalonia, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the country's entire economic output, is piling political pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his minority government.
Madrid has the power to suspend the semi-autonomous status that Catalonia enjoys under Spain's system of regional governments.
Mr Rajoy has yet to respond publicly to Sunday's vote, but the king's intervention could clear the way for him to act. "It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order," King Felipe said.
Meanwhile, the European Commission yesterday said it was time to resolve the escalating political crisis, while defending Madrid's right to use "proportionate" force to maintain law and order.
"It's time to talk, finding a way out of the impasse, working within the constitutional order of Spain," European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told an emergency debate in the European Parliament.
And the National Court in Madrid has placed Catalan police officials and pro-independence civil leaders under investigation for alleged "sedition".
US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday that Washington called for "all parties to resolve their political differences non-violently".
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE