Catalonia faces ultimatum in independence standoff with Spain

By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |   Oct. 12, 2017 at 8:33 AM
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Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Spain's prime minister on Thursday gave Catalonian leaders an ultimatum to drop their secession and independence bid.

As Spain celebrated Hispanic Day on Thursday, a national holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave Catalan leader Carles Puidgemont five days to clarify whether he's declared Catalonian independence.

If a plan for independence is in the works, Rajoy gave Puidgemont until Oct. 19 to reverse course.

In a speech Tuesday, Puidgemont said, "I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic" -- and called for "a reasonable dialogue, a mediation with the Spanish state."

Puidgemont's muddled announcement came 10 days after Catalonians voted overwhelmingly for their region to seek independence. The vote was declared illegal by Spanish authorities, and occupation of some polling places by Spanish police led to rioting and only 43 percent of eligible voters to participate.

Puidgemont has until Monday to clear up his position before he is found to be violating the law.He will then be given three more days to withdraw any statement regarding independence. After that point, Rajoy can trigger Article 155 of Spain's constitution that allows him to dissolve the Catalan government, end its provisions of autonomy and call for new elections.

Wednesday, Rajoy called an emergency meeting of his cabinet to consider Article 155, or the "nuclear option."

"The cabinet has agreed to require formally to the Catalan government to confirm whether it has declared or not independence," Rajoy said in a televised speech. "The answer from the Catalan president will determine future events, in the next few days."

It was Rajoy's first explicit reference to Spain's powers to take over Catalonia's government.

Madrid has shown little willingness to negotiate a settlement and is aware of the potential harm in its most prosperous region, which accounts for one-fifth of the country's economic output. Several major businesses have already announced they will relocate from Catalonia.

The Oct. 1 referendum saw 900 injuries to protesters and over 400 to police officers. On Thursday, the activist group Human Rights Watch accused police and the Spanish Civil Guard of {link:using excessive force: "http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/spain-accused-excessive-force-catalonia-protests-171012075633435.html" target="_blank".

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