Catalan vice-president says independence is only remaining option

Oriol Junqueras says Spanish decision to impose direct rule leaves region with little choice but to declare a sovereign state

Catalonia’s vice-president has warned Spain that its decision to impose direct rule has left separatists with little choice but to embark on the creation of a sovereign Catalan state, increasing speculation that a unilateral declaration of independence could be made within the next 48 hours.

Oriol Junqueras said the central government’s insistence on using the Spanish constitution to suspend regional autonomy had forced the hand of those who want to break away from Spain.

Junqueras told Associated Press that his Republican Left party – part of Catalonia’s ruling coalition – was “going to work towards building a republic because we understand that there is a democratic mandate to establish such a republic”.

He stressed that he was speaking only for his party and not the Catalan government, but added: “We also understand that the Spanish government is giving us no other option than to defend the civil rights and citizens’ rights through the best tools that our institutions have.”

His remarks came hours after the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, turned down an invitation to appear before the Spanish senate to defend his government’s bid for independence as the upper house of Spain’s parliament prepared to approve plans to strip him of his powers.

A spokesman for the Catalan government said Puigdemont would not attend the senate because the Spanish government had already made it plain that it would push ahead regardless with its measures to suspend regional autonomy under article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

He said Puigdemont had no intention of attending another senate session on Friday.

The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, also told regional MPs that Thursday’s crucial plenary session – at which Puigdemont is under growing pressure to make a unilateral independence declaration – had been pushed back to the afternoon.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that some members of the Catalan president’s coalition were still urging him to end the impasse by calling regional elections, while others were pressing him to declare independence – a move he has so far resisted.

Junqueras rejected calls for a snap election, saying it would be wrong “to renounce the democratic mandate that we have from citizens”.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said Puigdemont’s disregard for the constitution had left him with no choice but to invoke article 155.

Under the article, which has never been used, Puigdemont’s government would be relieved of its powers and new regional elections held within six months.

“The government’s response is the only one possible, given the stance of the Catalan institutions,” Rajoy told the Spanish parliament. “I am fulfilling my duty and I am doing it in the face of a rejection of our laws, of our constitution and of the millions of Catalan citizens who can see that their government has flouted the law.”

Rajoy said that while he hoped the Spanish state’s intervention in the region would be brief, it had a duty to “restore legality, boost the social co-existence that has been broken in Catalonia and tackle the economic consequences that its decisions are provoking”.

The senate, where Rajoy’s People’s party has a majority, is expected to approve the government’s plans when it meets on Friday.

Tensions between the governments in Madrid and Barcelona have risen to new heights following Puigdemont’s decision earlier this month to hold a unilateral independence referendum in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court.

Although Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence two weeks ago, he has proposed that its effects be suspended for two months to allow for talks.

Rajoy has refused to engage in dialogue with Puigdemont until he abandons his independence plans and has said there can be no international mediation on a domestic, constitutional issue.

On Saturday, Puigdemont described Madrid’s invocation of article 155 as the worst attack on Catalonia’s institutions since General Franco’s dictatorship, and accused the Spanish government of “slamming the door” on his appeals for dialogue.

According to the regional government, 43% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters took part in the referendum on 1 October, but a further 770,000 votes were lost after Spanish police stepped in to try to halt the vote. The Catalan government has said it is not including those votes in its final turnout tally.


Sam Jones in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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