Independence bid falters
The Catalan leader's high-wire bid for independence from Spain faltered yesterday when he backed away from a plan to call new elections amid disagreement within his own party.
Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia, said he had considered the option of dissolving the regional parliament and calling new elections in an effort to shore up his position in the standoff with Madrid, reported CNN.
But in a public statement in Barcelona, the regional capital, Puigdemont rejected the idea, apparently because he could not obtain guarantees from the central government in Madrid that it would not press ahead with a plan to impose direct rule on the region.
"My obligation and responsibility is to explore all the possibilities, absolutely all of them, to find a solution through dialogue, an agreed solution, to a political conflict that is of a democratic nature," he said.
He added that it was now "up to the (regional) parliament," which is expected to meet later yesterday, to decide how to respond to the central government's planned takeover.
Separatist lawmakers hold an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament, and many favour a declaration of independence.
Speaking just after Puigdemont, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria retorted that with the power seizure, the central government wanted "to open a new stage in which the law is respected".
The announcement came after day of confusion in Barcelona. Puigdemont delayed the statement after two of his MPs said they were unhappy with the plans for new elections.
Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades on October 1, when Catalonia held an independence referendum, and Catalan and Spanish leaders in Madrid have been in political deadlock ever since.
Madrid slammed the referendum as illegal, but Catalan leaders took its results as a mandate to declare a split from the country.
Madrid has scheduled a vote in the Spanish Senate for today, in which members will decide whether to suspend Catalonia's autonomy and put it under Madrid's control.
The measures would see Madrid taking control of Catalonia's government, police, purse and public broadcaster, until new elections are held.
Catalonia is one of 17 regions, with varying degrees of autonomy, that make up Spain.
It was not clear whether the central government would back off after Puigdemont address.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has threatened for weeks to impose direct rule on Catalonia as a way to quash Puigdemont's plan to declare independence. He said Madrid had prepared all the documents to employ the never-before-used Article 155 of the country's Constitution.
More than 2.25 million people turned out to vote in the October 1 referendum, ruled illegal by Spain's consitutional court. Catalan authorities said 90% of voters favored a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low -- around 43% of the voter roll -- which Catalan officials blamed on the central government's efforts to stop the referendum.