Catalan leader suspends declaration of independence

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Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday said he has the mandate to declare the region’s independence from Spain, but added that the effects would be “suspended” to start a dialogue with Madrid. It was not immediately clear how the central government would respond.

Puigdemont delivered a lengthy address before the region’s parliament on late Tuesday, summarizing the region’s history and its efforts to gain independence. He emphasized that Catalonia’s status was not just a Spanish issue but a European issue.

“I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said, to applause from lawmakers. “I propose that parliament suspends the effects of the declaration of independence to start dialogue to reach an agreed solution.”

Puigdemont did not ask parliament to back his proposal in a vote and it remains unclear how his administration will try to start negotiations. The Spanish government has been unwilling to negotiate its sovereignty and warned that it would take action if the region tried to declare independence.

Madrid described Tuesday’s speech as an “implicit” declaration of independence, but it was unclear whether it would take any action against the regional government. Madrid has not ruled out using Article 155 of the constitution to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and take direct control of the region.

More than 90% of ballots cast during a referendum on October 1 were in favor of independence, but the vote was declared illegal and turnout was only 43%. A police crackdown – in which 893 people were injured – may have decreased turnout as police seized ballot boxes and dispersed voters.

Spain is facing its worst political crisis since it became a democracy four decades ago after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Catalonia has insisted for weeks that it will seek to implement the results of the vote, even though Spain’s constitution requires that a referendum on sovereignty takes place nationally, not regionally. It allows Madrid to suspend the regional government’s authority or, in the worst case, send in security forces.

Catalonia, which has a total population of 7.6 million people, has long sought independence from Spain. Many of its residents feel that the wealthy region contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

Earlier this year, former Catalan President Artur Mas was fined 36,500 euros ($40,860) and banned from holding public office for 2 years for organizing a non-binding independence referendum in 2014. The conviction and a recent recession led to a renewed push for independence.

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