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Spain headed for a showdown as Rajoy set to suspend Catalan autonomy

Madrid appeared to offer the separatists a potential last-minute way out in the form of fresh regional elections.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT SAYS it will press ahead with steps to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia, minutes after the region’s separatist leader threatened to unilaterally declare independence from Spain if Madrid continued its “repression.”

“The Spanish government will continue with the procedures outlined in article 155 of the Constitution to restore legality in Catalonia’s self-government,” it said in a statement, referring to an article that allows for Madrid to take direct control over a region in exceptional circumstances.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to declare independence if Spain suspends the region’s autonomy.

“If the central government persists in preventing dialogue and continuing repression, Catalonia’s parliament could proceed, if it considers it timely, to vote for a formal declaration of independence that it didn’t vote for on 10 October,” Puigdemont wrote, after highlighting Madrid’s threat to suspend its regional autonomy.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says it will trigger Article 155 of Spain’s constitution — a measure that would allow it to start imposing direct rule over semi-autonomous Catalonia — unless Puigdemont backs down.

Catalonia is deeply divided over whether to break away from Spain as Puigdemont has repeatedly threatened since the referendum, but the wealthy northeastern region is proud of its autonomy in one of the Western world’s most decentralised nations.

There are fears that moving to impose direct rule could further aggravate a crisis that has worried investors and added to the woes of a European Union already grappling with Brexit.

A top official in Puigdemont’s PDeCat party, Marta Pascal, told reporters that if Madrid triggers Article 155, then party members would ask him to declare independence outright.

But Madrid appeared to offer the separatists a potential last-minute way out in the form of fresh regional elections. Polls sanctioned by Madrid — unlike the referendum, which the Constitutional Court ruled illegal — would allow Catalan voters to have a say on how to move forward.

A government source told AFP that elections could be considered “a return to legality” by Puigdemont, while opposition leader Pedro Sanchez said Madrid would “without a doubt” back off from triggering Article 155.

A Catalan government source said that elections were “not one of our priorities” but did not rule them out.

“We are not going to react to non-official declarations from the government,” the source said. “We are waiting to see what (Madrid) will decide tomorrow.”

© – AFP, 2017

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