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Spain gives Catalonia until Thursday to clear position on independence

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria speaks during a news conference at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, on October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Spain has issued a new ultimatum for Catalonia to clarify its position on independence, warning that Madrid will take control of the autonomous region if regional leader Carles Puigdemont fails to stop the secession bid by Thursday.  

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Puigdemont had until 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) Thursday to “return to legality” and make his intentions clear.

The new ultimatum came shortly after Catalonia missed the Monday deadline to clarify whether it would separate from mainland Spain as a result of the controversial referendum held in the region on October 1.

“The government regrets that the president of the Catalan government has decided not to respond to the request made by the government,” she added. “Mr. Puigdemont still has the opportunity to start resolving this situation. He must answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the declaration.”

She further warned that Spain would be allowed, under Article 155 of the Constitution, to take over parts of Catalonia’s self-governance if Barcelona refuses to clarify its position.

The Catalan leader made a symbolic declaration of independence last Tuesday, but suspended it shortly afterwards and called for talks with the central government on the fate of the region.

The government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy then gave him until Monday 10:00 a.m. local time to clarify his position on independence simply with ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’

However, in a letter sent to the central government earlier today, Puigdemont stopped short of giving a clear answer and, instead, called for negotiations on the issue.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont (Photo by AFP)

During the Monday press conference, Rajoy’s deputy rejected Puigdemont's call for dialog as “not credible,” stressing that Spain’s national parliament is the place to talk.

“I don’t think it’s believable for anyone that President Puigdemont calls for dialogue in the name of Catalonia when he refuses to debate his position in parliament and when he has been imposing his position on the entire population,” she said.

Commenting on the letter earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Puigdemont “has not responded, has not given the clarity we asked of him.”

Puigdemont wrote that his “suspension of the political mandate given by the polls on October 1st demonstrates our firm will to find a solution and not confrontation.”

“For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialog,” the letter said.

Justice Minister Rafael Catala also said the response to Madrid’s inquiry is not valid.

Tensions have been running high between Madrid and Barcelona since October 1st, when Puigdemont’s government defied Spanish authorities by staging the vote. Spain views the vote as illegal.

Fewer than half of eligible voters participated, but roughly 90 percent of those who did supported secession.

At home, the Catalan president is under pressure by key allies and pro-independence parties to declare full independence from Madrid and ignore a threat of direct rule from the Spanish government.

“If (the central Madrid government) wants to continue to threaten and gag us, they should do it to the Republic that has already been claimed,” the far-left Catalan CUP Party said last week.

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