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Spain says Catalonia leader Puigdemont ‘unclear’ on independence


Spain says Catalonia leader Puigdemont 'unclear' on independence

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Media captionEurope correspondent Gavin Lee looks to the past for the origins of the Catalan crisis

The Spanish government has said that the head of the Catalonia region has failed to clarify whether he declared independence last week.

In a letter to Madrid on Monday, Carles Puigdemont instead called for negotiation over the next two months.

The Spanish government has warned that Catalonia must revoke the declaration or face direct rule from Madrid.

Separately, a judge ruled that the Catalan chief of police will not be held in custody.

Spain's state prosecutor had asked for Josep Lluis Trapero to be detained while he is investigated for sedition against the state.

A court spokesman told Reuters news agency that Mr Trapero's passport will be withdrawn while the investigation is ongoing.

His force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, is accused of failing to help Spain's Guardia Civil police tackle thousands of pro-independence protesters in Barcelona during the run-up to the referendum.

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Last week, Mr Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, but halted its implementation to allow negotiations.

Spain's Deputy PM Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Mr Puigdemont now had until Thursday to clarify his position.

But Catalan TV station TV3 said Mr Puigdemont would not respond by then, citing unnamed sources.

'Still no clarity'

Ms Sáenz de Santamaría said on Monday that Madrid "deeply regrets" that the Catalan government had "decided not to respond" to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's request for clarity on the region's independence decision.

Speaking at the official residence of the Spanish prime minister, the Moncloa Palace, she said that any future dialogue between Madrid and Catalonia's regional government must take place "within the law".

Ms Sáenz de Santamaría added that the Spanish government's handling of the Catalonia crisis was widely backed in the Spanish parliament.

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Image caption Ms Saenz de Santamaria said it was regrettable that Mr Puigdemont had "decided not to respond"

Spain's Justice Minister Rafael Catalá earlier said that Mr Puigdemont's response to the Madrid deadline was "not valid", Spanish news agency Efe reported.

Mr Catalá said the letter had failed to clarify Catalonia's position or explain what measures Mr Puigdemont's regional government was planning in order to fulfil Madrid's demands.

What was in the letter?

In a letter to Mr Rajoy on Monday, Mr Puigdemont said his "suspension of the political mandate given by the polls on 1 October demonstrates our firm will to find a solution and not confrontation".

"For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue," he said, asking for a meeting as soon as possible.

"Let's not let the situation deteriorate further. With good will, recognising the problem and facing it head on, I am sure we can find the path to a solution," Mr Puigdemont wrote.

What happened with the declaration?

In a speech to the Catalan parliament on 10 October, Mr Puigdemont said that he had been handed a clear mandate to move towards secession.

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

However, despite signing a declaration of independence, Mr Puigdemont said that parliament would "suspend the effects" of the move to allow negotiations to take place.

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Image caption A pro-independence crowd gathered in Barcelona to hear Mr Puigdemont's address

"We're suspending the declaration of independence for a few weeks because we want a reasonable dialogue, a mediation with the Spanish state," he said.

Mr Puigdemont added that Catalonia had "won the right to be independent, to be listened to and to be respected".

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Why is the vote so divisive?

Catalonia's controversial independence referendum result, which was immediately rejected by the Spanish government, has plunged Spain into turmoil.

The vote was declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court.

Catalan authorities said that slightly fewer than 90% of voters backed independence, although the turnout for the poll was only 43%.

Polling day was marred by scenes of violence as Spain's police confiscated ballot boxes and attempted to prevent members of the public entering polling stations.

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What measures can Madrid take?

Article 155 of Spain's 1978 constitution allows Madrid to impose direct rule in a crisis, but it has never been invoked in democratic Spain.

It would be Spain's Senate – the upper house of parliament, controlled by Mr Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) – that would launch the transfer of powers from Catalonia to Madrid.

Madrid may also decide to call new regional elections, hoping to thwart the independence drive.

Some 4,000 national police who were dispatched to Catalonia during the crisis have remained there since polling day.

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