Madrid rebukes Catalan leader, independence put on hold

Madrid rebukes Catalan leader, independence put on hold”

But in a parliamentary speech Puigdemont immediately called for independence to be suspended to allow for negotiations with the central government.

"I assume ... the mandate that Catalonia become an independent state in the form of a republic", he said to prolonged applause.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy yesterday gave the Catalan government eight days to drop an independence bid, failing which he would suspend the Catalonia's political autonomy and rule the region directly. However, he added that Barcelona delayed any declaration of independence in order to continue talks with Madrid.

But Spain's political establishment rounded on Puigdemont following his declaration, and support among separatists in Catalonia was mixed.

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Depending on the Catalan government's answer, the government in Madrid could impose direct rule on the region.

There is no suggestion that the crisis could degenerate into an armed conflict but it could damage the region and Spain as a whole economically, bringing new instability to the eurozone.

In Brussels, there was a sense of relief that the euro zone's fourth-largest economy now had at least bought some time to deal with a crisis that was still far from over.

"The cabinet has agreed this morning to formally request the Catalan government to confirm whether it has declared the independence of Catalonia, regardless of the deliberate confusion created over its implementation", Rajoy said in a televised address after a cabinet meeting called to consider the government's response.

European Council President Donald Tusk had urged Puigdemont not to proclaim independence.

One EU official said Puigdemont "seems to have listened to advice not to do something irreversible".

The official results of the vote showed that 90.18 percent, or more than 2.28 million voters, supported the secession of Catalonia from Spain, with a turnout exceeding 43 percent. It has its own language, parliament, flag and anthem.

Marc Cazes, a student in Barcelona, said: "I did not expect independence to be declared today because of all the processes that the government of Spain has begun, both with police actions and with threats".

Spain has been in turmoil since the separatist government held a disputed referendum in Catalonia on 1 October which was declared invalid by the country's Constitutional Court. Spain could still act against him, possibly invoking a clause of the constitution that cancels Puigdemont's regional powers.

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