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Spain PM warns Catalan president to drop secession bid

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks at the parliament in Madrid, October 18, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned the regional president of Catalonia to “act sensibly” and renounce his push for a breakup with Madrid, 24 hours before a final ultimatum comes to an end.

Addressing lawmakers at the parliament on Wednesday, Rajoy said, “I ask [Catalan President Carles] Puigdemont to act sensibly, in a balanced way, to put the interest of all citizens first.”

Rajoy has given Puigdemont until Thursday to come up with a definitive answer on the independence question or face the consequences: the suspension of the region’s autonomy.

Catalonia missed a first deadline, on Monday, to clarify whether it had dropped its bid to secede from Spain following a banned referendum held on October 1. In a letter sent to the central government early Monday morning, Puigdemont instead called for negotiations with the central government on the issue.

The president of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont (photo by AFP)

Puigdemont 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.

“Our call for dialog is sincere, despite everything that has occurred, but it is obviously incompatible with the current climate of escalating oppression and threats,” he wrote in the letter.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, however, said on Monday that Puigdemont’s call for dialog was “not credible.”

She once again warned the Catalan leader on Wednesday that if he did not provide a satisfactory response to Madrid by 0800 GMT Thursday, he would “provoke the application of article 155 of the constitution.”

If invoked by the Spanish government, the provisions contained in Article 155 of the constitution would allow Madrid to impose direct rule over the autonomous region.

The supporters of independence for Catalonia walk next to a police van in Barcelona, October 10, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

That move may provoke civil unrest in Catalonia, where tensions have been running high since Spain deployed thousands of police officers to block the independence vote.

Puigdemont is also under growing pressure from his pro-secession government to unilaterally declare independence. The far-left Catalan Party (CUP) threatened to withdraw its support for the minority government in the regional parliament unless Puigdemont made an unequivocal declaration of independence in defiance of Madrid’s deadlines.

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