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Catalan leader rejects calls for new elections, paves way for 'nuclear option'

By
Sara Shayanian
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont rejected calls Thursday for regional elections as a means to head off the Spanish government's taking direct control of the region. Photo by Toni Albir/EPA
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont rejected calls Thursday for regional elections as a means to head off the Spanish government's taking direct control of the region. Photo by Toni Albir/EPA

Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Catalan President Carles Puigdemont chose not to call for early elections Thursday -- a move that would've averted further action from the Spanish government -- as tensions over Catalonia's potential independence continue to escalate.

Puigdemont canceled an appearance, where he was expected to ask for the regional elections and rule out a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain, due to what he called a lack of "sufficient guarantees" from the Spanish government for doing so.

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"I have no guarantee to justify, today, the calling of legislative elections," he said.

Puigdemont did not fully declare independence, but he noted that it would be up to Catalonia's regional parliament to decide how to proceed.

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Catalan's parliament is expected to meet later Thursday and Friday, and give more clarity on the region's plans.

About 90 percent of voters in Catalonia favored independence in an Oct. 1 referendum. Puigdemont has since said he will support the voters, but has stopped short of announcing a full-scale effort to secede.

Facing pressure on both sides, Puigdemont scrapped the appearance after meeting with pro-independence leaders on how to handle Madrid's plans to enact Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution -- or the "nuclear option" -- to suspend Catalonia's autonomy.

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Some pro-independence leaders supposedly wanted a unilateral declaration of independence from the Catalan leader, while others wanted early elections to fend off intervention from Spain.

Many of Puigdemont's own allies called him a traitor and a coward as rumors suggesting he might walk back a call for independence grew.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría responded to Puigdemont's refusal to end his independence bid by calling it an act of "pure irresponsibility."

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"By refusing to comply with the law, they have sown mistrust," Santamaria said.

"The damage to social harmony is overwhelming; the damage to trust is very deep. They have taken institutional problems down into the streets of Catalonia and into the homes of Catalans."

Puigdemont and his government now must decide their next step in the ongoing standoff.

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