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Spain takes step towards suspending Catalonia autonomy

Spanish Prime Minister seeks formal response from Catalan government before triggering article 155 of the Constitution.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariana Rajoy

Spain's Prime Minister Mariana Rajoy has demanded Catalan leaders clarify whether they have formally declared independence before he invokes a constitutional article that would strip the region of its autonomy.

Addressing deputies in parliament on Wednesday, Rajoy said Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont's response would determine "future events".

"The cabinet has agreed to formally require the Catalan government to confirm whether it has declared independence or not," Rajoy said in the address, which was televised and posted to his twitter account. 

"This call precedes the measures that the government may adopt under article 155 of our constitution and seeks to offer clarity and security that a question of such importance requires," he added.

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the central government in Madrid to take direct control of regions, if they fail to comply with their legal obligations.

The previous evening, Puigdemont's said Catalonia has a mandate to declare independence but would suspend it pending the outcome of talks with Spain.

"By being the president, I assume my responsibility to declare that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic," he told a meeting of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday.

Madrid has dismissed the idea of holding talks with Catalan leaders and has opposed the decision to hold the referendum from the outset. 

When Catalonia proceeded with the referendum anyway on October 1, the central government sent police to forcibly stop it from taking place, resulting in incidents of ballot papers being confiscated and voters being dragged away from polling stations.

The independence movement won the vote with 92 percent of voters in favour but the referendum was largely boycotted by unionists and turnout stood at just 43 percent.

Spanish courts have also ruled in Madrid's favour, declaring the push for independence illegal.

'Breakdown in social cohesion'

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría has accused the Catalan leadership of causing a "breakdown in social cohesion" and said it was up to "democrats to restore serenity and sanity".

"There is no dialogue after the imposition (of the referendum result), laws are changed in parliament and through democracy," she said.

However, not all anti-independence voices in Spain are opposed to talks.

Spanish MP Enric Bataller I Ruiz from the centre-left Compromis party said that many Spaniards fear both the idea of Catalonia's independence and the withdrawal of its autonomy in response to its separatist push.

"I think Mariano Rajoy should try to hold the hand of [dialogue]," he said, adding "it is political negotiation that is needed now in Catalonia ... and some kind of mediation to resolve the problem." 


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