Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Gov’t set to strip Catalonia of powers over independence bid

Published:Friday | October 20, 2017 | 12:07 AM
Demonstrators protest against Catalan government's push for secession from the rest of Spain in Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday.

BARCELONA (AP):

The crisis over Catalonia's quest for independence escalated yesterday, as Spain's central government prepared the unprecedented step of stripping the wealthy region of some of its self-governing powers after its leader refused to abandon secession.

In his latest display of brinkmanship, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just minutes before a deadline set by Madrid for him to backtrack on his calls to secede.

Puigdemont didn't back down, however, and threatened to go ahead with a unilateral proclamation of independence if the government refuses to negotiate.

"If the State Government persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues, the Parliament of Catalonia will proceed, if deemed appropriate, to vote on the formal declaration of independence," Puigdemont's letter said in an English translation provided by the Catalan regional government.

Spain's government responded by calling a special Cabinet session for Saturday when it will set in motion Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. That article allows for central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of the country's 17 autonomous regions.

Regarded as the "nuclear option," such a punitive measure takes the standoff to another level. It probably will trigger outrage in Catalonia and could backfire by fostering sympathy for the independence movement, which polls suggest is supported only by about half of Catalans.

With a mood of defiance hardening in the Catalan capital of Barcelona and the Madrid-based government adamant that the constitution doesn't allow for the breakup of Spain, there seems to be no end in sight for one of Europe's long-simmering disputes.