October 11, 2017 08:14
Catalonia's hardline secessionist leaders pulled back from the brink by declaring independence from Spain but suspending implementation to allow negotiations to take place with the central government in Madrid.
Speaking before Catalonia's regional parliament, its president, Carles Puigdemont, urged Madrid to enter into dialogue. He said Catalonia had earned the right to independence.
A spokesman for the center-right government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said, "The government rejects Catalonia's tacit declaration of independence." The spokesman added there couldn't be dialogue when the Catalan leaders had already decided they want secession.
Puigdemont told regional lawmakers Tuesday night, "Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic."
Addressing a packed Catalan parliament, he also said, "The ballots boxes said yes to independence, and this is the only language we understand. We propose to suspend independence declaration to start dialogue in the coming weeks." He was referring to the controversial October 1 plebiscite, which was declared illegal by the Spanish government and the country's constitutional court.
Analysts said Puigdemont's speech, in which he blamed Madrid for refusing to talk in the past and criticized the Spanish government for persecuting secessionists, will worsen the political crisis, the most dangerous to buffet Spain since a failed coup in 1981.
Rajoy threatened over the weekend to suspend the semi-autonomy of the restive northeast region, shutter Catalonia's political institutions and impose direct rule from Madrid.
Puigdemont's announcement Tuesday was delayed by more than an hour as dramatic last-minute appeals flowed in from Spanish leaders as well as from European capitals. Catalan politicians opposed to secession moved to delay Tuesday's session of the Catalan regional parliament.
Just hours before the Catalan government met to hear Puigdemont speak, Rajoy said he couldn't rule out drastic solutions to the challenge posed by Catalonia. Spain's interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, urged the Catalans to "get on the path of legality and the rule of law."
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