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Spain's Rajoy demands clarity from Catalonia on independence

Stringer, AFP | Spain's Mariano Rajoy threatened to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy after its leader said he had a mandate to break away.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has formally demanded the Catalan leader clarify whether independence has been declared, suggesting this will determine whether Spain steps in to suspend the region's autonomy.

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Rajoy gave the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont five days to clarify his stance.

“The cabinet has agreed to require formally to the Catalan government to confirm whether or not it has declared independence,” Rajoy said in a televised address on Wednesday.

“The answer from the Catalan president will determine future events, in the next few days,” he added, pledging to act in a “cautious and responsible” way.

Rajoy said the clarity was required before activating article 155 of the Spanish constitution, a so-called "nuclear option" that would allow him to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy and take over the region.

He later told Spain's parliament the Catalan government had until Monday, October 16 at 0800 GMT to answer. If Puigdemont was to confirm he did declare independence, he would be given an additional three days to rectify it, until Thursday, October 19 at 0800 GMT. Failing this, the article would be triggered.

On Tuesday, Puigdemont told the region's parliament in Barcelona that he had a mandate to proceed with independence from Spain after a disputed referendum on October 1.

But, confusingly, he proposed suspending the process for "a few weeks" to give dialogue with Madrid a chance.

The central government in Madrid has given little indication it is willing to talk, saying it does not consider the referendum or its results to be valid.

Catalan officials say 90% of voters cast ballots in favour of independence in the October 1 poll, but the reported turnout was just 43%.

Puigdemont 'doesn't know where he's going'

After Puigdemont's speech on Tuesday, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Catalan leader "doesn't know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go."

She said Puigdemont had put Catalonia "in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet."

Article 155 of the Constitution allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don't comply with their legal obligations.

This would begin with a cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.

Catalonia's separatist camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain's recent economic crisis and by Madrid's rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.

Rajoy's government has repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it would be unconstitutional.

The political deadlock has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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