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Madrid rebukes Catalan leader, independence put on hold

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Madrid, Oct 11 (IANS) The Spanish government has rejected calls for mediation from Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who signed a statement of independence for the province but put the announcement on hold.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria described Puigdemont as someone “who does not know where he is, where he’s going”.

Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence on Tuesday but halted its implementation to allow negotiations.

There had been speculation that the Catalan President might declare independence and put the move into effect, plunging Spain into an even deeper political crisis, BBC reported.

Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was due to hold an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss the government’s next steps.

Spain has been in turmoil since a disputed referendum on October 1 which was declared invalid by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Addressing the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona, Puigdemont said the autonomous region had won the right to be independent as a result of the vote.

“We call on international states and organisations to recognise the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state,” he said.

He said the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid, but he also said he wanted to “de-escalate” the tension around the issue.

“I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks in the coming weeks without which it is not possible to reach an agreed solution,” he told MPs. He did not specify what form the talks would take or who would mediate.

Puigdemont’s proposal to suspend the declaration of independence to allow for negotiations pulled the region back from the brink of an unprecedented showdown with Madrid but drew criticism from both the Spanish government and the leader of the opposition in the Catalan Parliament.

The Spain’s Deputy Premier said: “Dialogue between democrats takes place within the law, respects the rules of the game and doesn’t make them up as it goes along.”

The move came after the October 1 independence referendum in which 90 per cent of participants voted in favour of splitting from Spain.

The poll was marred by violence after Spanish police acting on court orders attempted to stop the vote by raiding polling stations, seizing ballot boxes, beating voters and firing rubber bullets at crowds.

Ahead of Puigdemont’s address on Tuesday, influential figures including Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau and European Council President Donald Tusk had urged him to step back from declaring independence.

The European Union made clear that if Catalonia split from Spain, the region would cease to be part of the EU.

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