Catalonia’s president may bring crisis to head in parliament

Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades is set to come to a head on Tuesday when the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, reveals his plans for independence as he addresses the regional parliament for the first time since the referendum that provoked the standoff with the Spanish government.

Although Puigdemont had originally promised to make a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of a victory for the secessionist campaign, he has so far held off doing so, calling instead for mediated negotiations with the Madrid government.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos party, tweeted: “Casado says Puigdemont could end up like Companys, who was tortured and shot. He’s either stupid or an irresponsible troublemaker.”

His appearance before parliament comes after the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, threatened to impose direct rule on Catalonia and a series of banks and businesses announced plans to relocate from the region amid the enduring uncertainty.

Despite the growing national and international pressure, it is unclear whether Puigdemont will push ahead with a formal declaration of independence or choose a less drastic option in the hope of avoiding any further escalation of tensions with Madrid.

The Spanish government – which has repeatedly argued that the referendum and the laws underpinning it are illegal and unconstitutional – has said it will use all the legal means at its disposal to stop Catalonia splitting from the rest of the country.

A Catalan government source dismissed suggestions that the president would opt for a merely symbolic recognition of independence, but refused to be drawn on what he might do.

“We’re still on track. We’re here to do what we’re here to do and we will do it especially now that we know that people have voted in a referendum and the result is clear,” they said.

“We’re not doing anything apart from what we have committed to do. It is the president’s prerogative to establish the exact parameters on which this will be done.”

Carles Puigdemont.

Rajoy has vowed to preserve national unity and shown himself willing to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows the central government to take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.
Rajoy has also said the thousands of Guardia Civil and national police officers originally deployed in Catalonia to prevent the vote would remain there “until things return to normal”.Invoking the article, which has never been used, would provoke an angry response in Catalonia. Tempers in the region remain high following the Spanish police’s efforts to stop the referendum on 1 October, which saw officers raiding polling stations, beating voters and firing rubber bullets at crowds.

Much could rest on the response of the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to either a unilateral declaration of independence or the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

Unions representing the two national forces have already accused the Mossos d’Esquadra of “clear disobedience” and an “unacceptable passivity” when it came to halting the referendum.

While the Mossos agreed to seal off polling stations during the referendum, they warned that such actions risked public order.

The head of the force, Josep Lluís Trapero, is being investigated for sedition by Spain’s national court amid accusations that the Mossos failed to assist Guardia Civil officers who raided government buildings and arrested 14 Catalan officials last month.Speaking on Monday evening, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, called for urgent negotiations, saying Spain was facing its “greatest institutional crisis” since its return to democracy following the death of Franco in 1975.On Monday, it emerged that the head of the Catalan high court had ordered Spanish national police officers to help protect the court building, which is usually guarded by the Mossos. Explaining his decision in a statement, Jesús María Barrientos said a declaration of independence could disrupt the running of the court and could even result in judges – including himself – being removed.

She asked both Rajoy and Puigdemont to drop their entrenched positions and to talk to each other. “We cannot allow ourselves to jeopardise either social cohesion or Catalan institutions,” she said.

“The results of 1 October cannot be used as a guarantee for the declaration of independence. But they do represent an opportunity to open dialogue and international mediation.” Urging both sides to calm the tensions, she added: “It’s time to build bridges; not to blow them up.”

An anti-independence protest in Barcelona on Sunday.

According to the Catalan government, 90% of participants voted for independence in the referendum on 1 October, with 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters casting a ballot.

A full count of the votes has been complicated by the fact that police removed many ballot boxes from polling stations and shut down polling stations where up to 770,000 people could have voted.

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