Spain braced for possible Catalonian independence declaration
The Spanish government warned Carles Puigdemont “not to do anything irreversible” on Tuesday, ahead of a scheduled address in which the Catalan president may declare independence. Uncertainty remains over whether Mr Puigdemont will risk a head-on conflict with the Spanish government by openly proclaiming a new Catalan republic when he speaks at at 5pm BST, or back down from his promises and pave the way for negotiations with Madrid. “We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration, which would lead to illegality,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters. The official line from the Catalan government is that Mr Puigdemont will “fulfil his obligations” under the self-determination referendum law, which states that a Yes vote would trigger a meeting of parliament to “effect the formal declaration of independence of Catalonia, specifying its effects and starting the constituent process”. The referendum law was suspended by Spain’s constitutional court and the Spanish government was widely criticised for a violent crackdown on the referendum vote that went ahead on Oct 1. Catalan officials have claimed preliminary results show 90 per cent voted in favour of independence. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to “use all legal instruments available” to nullify a unilateral declaration of independence, including an intervention in the government of Catalonia. Spain’s chief public prosecutor has said that Mr Puigdemont could be arrested for going ahead with an illegal referendum. Pablo Casado, a spokesman for Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party, expressed the hope on Monday that Mr Puigdemont would not end up like the last Catalan leader who declared independence. Lluís Companys was arrested and eventually executed in 1940 after a military trial during the Franco dictatorship. Mr Casado later said he was referring only to the possibility of Mr Puigdemont being arrested. Leaders of pro-independence organisations have called supporters to “defend the declaration of a republic” by rallying in the streets outside the parliament in Barcelona at the same time that Mr Puigdemont is due to speak. Security at the parliament building is provided by the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra police, whose chief has been accused of sedition by a Spanish judge for allegedly failing to support Spanish officers in their attempt to prevent the referendum. On Monday, the top court in Catalonia put Spain’s National Police force in charge of security at its headquarters, apparently fearful that the Mossos may resist an order by Mr Puigdemont’s government to gain control of the judiciary. The Spanish government’s response will depend on the exact wording of a declaration of independence, should there be one. If independence were to be declared with immediate effect, Mr Rajoy would have little choice but to suspend the authority of the Catalan government. But many observers have suggested that Mr Puigdemont may declare independence starting on a date in the future to allow time for dialogue and negotiation. Eight Nobel Peace Prize winners, led by anti-landmine campaigner Jody Williams, have signed an open letter to Spain and Catalonia urging both sides to enter 11-hour mediation on how to break the impasse.