Spain rejects talks offer from Catalan government

In a letter to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday, Carlos Puigdemont made a “sincere and honest” offer for dialogue between the two men over the next two months.

Jordi Cuixart, president of the Catalan Omnium Cultural organization, center, and Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly, fourth from left wave to supporters on arrival at the national court in Madrid, Spain, in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Two senior Catalan regional police force officers and the leaders of two pro-independence associations are in court again, facing possible sedition charges related to the staging of the region's banned Oct. 1 secession referendum. The sedition case is investigating the roles of the four in Sept. 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona as Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations. (AP Photo/Paul White)
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Spain rejected an offer of talks from the Catalan regional government over the region’s bid for independence as Madrid lays the ground to impose direct rule following an informal referendum in which 90 per cent voted to breakaway.

Instead Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, the Spanish deputy prime minister, said the Catalan authorities had failed to give a definite response to its demand to clarify the independence question by a deadline on Monday. The national government will outline its stance if no clear cut statement is delivered by Thursday. “Mr Puigdemont still has the opportunity to start resolving this situation, he must answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the declaration,” Mrs Saenz de Santamaria said. "It was not difficult to say yes or no to whether he had declared independence."

In a letter to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday, Carlos Puigdemont made a “sincere and honest” offer for dialogue between the two men over the next two months.


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Mr Rajoy has held out the threat of using Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to take direct control of the Catalan administration and sideline Mr Puigdemont and his team. As the impasse persists, the Spanish leader appears increasingly prepared to trigger the powers of the centre. “The notice that I sent you is the prior step to the procedure set out in Article 155 of the Constitution,” Mr Rajoy wrote in a formal response, also published on Monday.

Mr Puigdemont’s reference to two months of dialogue in his letter was the first time the Barcelona leader has placed a time limit on his call for negotiations with Madrid. If the Catalan deadline expires with no movement from Rajoy, the Catalan government will declare independence unilaterally, Joaquim Forn, head of the regional interior department, said in an interview with Catalunya Radio.

“This is enough for Rajoy to justify applying Article 155,” said Antonio Barroso, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence, a consulting firm. “When he does we can expect a high degree of mobilisation on the streets as the independence movement tries to claim that the central government is moving ahead in a repressive way and resisting dialogue.”

Spanish observers believe the step is becoming inevitable. “It seems inevitable that we’re headed for Article 155,” said Ignacio Gomá Lanzón, a lawyer and chairman of Hay Derecho, a legal advocacy foundation in Madrid. “The range of measures they could take under 155 is quite wide: They could kick out the current government and name new leaders, control Catalonia’s police, and eventually even call for new elections.”

Hardliners within the separatist campaign have drawn up plans to picket major economic infrastructure like the main airport and the port if Madrid moves to take control. They have also considered targeting foreign companies operating in the region in a bid to force other EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel to step in and help break the impasse.

If Rajoy does take direct control of Catalonia, he will eventually have to call regional elections to facilitate a return to normality. That raises the prospect of an unending cycle of confrontation between competing administrations.

“More than two million Catalans gave the regional parliament a democratic mandate to declare independence,” Mr Puigdemont said in his letter. “Our proposal for dialogue is sincere, despite all that has happened, but logically it is incompatible with the actual climate of growing repression and threat.”

The referendum, which was banned by Spain’s supreme court, saw participants back independence by 9:1 but turnout was reported at just 43 per cent of the provincial electorate.

The outcome has already resulted in immense division in Spanish instructions. The Spanish Civil Guard has been applauded by Spanish backers but criticised by Catalans after operations to disrupt the vote turned violent. Meanwhile leaders of a local police force face prosecution for intervening on the other side.

Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero faces interrogation before Spain’s high court over whether his force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, deliberately failed to enforce the court ban on the independence referendum.

Mr Trapero has been put under formal investigation for sedition after failing to order to rescue Civil Guard police who were trapped inside a Catalan government building in Barcelona by tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters.

The forceful tactics used by the Spanish police before the October 1 vote strained ties between Mr Rajoy and his fellow European leaders. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who faces his own separatist movement in the richer, northern region of Flanders, said the EU may have to consider stepping in to mediate if talks between Madrid and Barcelona fail.

“Only if dialogue has been definitively shown to fail should we consider international or European mediation,” Mr Michel said.

Such a development would be anathema to Mr Rajoy, who is due to travel to Brussels shortly after the Thursday deadline expires to meet his EU colleagues including Mr Michel at a summit