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Catalonia defiant as Madrid-set deadline arrives

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to formally declare independence if Spain moves to suspend the region’s autonomy, a regional government source says, as a Madrid-imposed deadline arrives for Catalonia to unambiguously drop its secession bid.

Puigdemont told members of his Catalan Democratic Party (CUP) on Wednesday that he would issue a formal independence declaration if the central government in Madrid started the process of suspending the region’s autonomy, as it has threatened to.

Catalonia held a banned referendum on secession on October 1. The Catalan leader claimed that 90 percent of the voters in the referendum had backed secession, but the turnout had been put at only 43 percent.

Last Tuesday, Puigdemont signed a symbolic declaration of independence but suspended it shortly afterwards and called for talks with the central government on the fate of the region.

The Spanish government had given Puigdemont until 10 a.m. local time (08:00 GMT) on Thursday to retract that symbolic declaration and drop the illegal secession bid altogether.

The Catalan government source said, “The president (Puigdemont) said [at] his party’s meeting that he will lift the suspension of the independence declaration if the government executes Article 155.”

The article allows Madrid to take over any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions should they break the law.

The two sides thus seem to be on a course to a more serious confrontation.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on the Catalan president to offer a definitive answer on the independence question, repeating his call for clarity on the matter.

“It’s not that difficult to reply to the question: Has Catalonia declared independence? Because if it has, the government is obliged to act in one way, and if it has not, we can talk here,” Rajoy said in an address to parliament.

Puigdemont is reportedly under pressure from his pro-secession government to unilaterally declare independence.

Meanwhile, people in Catalonia have been protesting the imprisonment of the two separatist leaders.

People attend a candle-lit demonstration against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders, in Barcelona, October 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Catalonia had held a symbolic referendum back in November 2014, during which more than 80 percent of participants voted for independence, according to Catalan officials.

The region has a population of 7.5 million people, who speak their own language and have their own cultural traditions, and a political movement for splitting from Spain that has strengthened in recent years.

Catalonia, Spain’s wealthy region, accounts for a fifth of the country’s economy.

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