Spain’s government extended the deadline to thursday after Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont, in a letter on Monday to Spain’s prime minister, called for more dialogue over the status of the semi-autonomous region, but failed to meet a demand from Madrid to clarify a declaration of independence or face direct rule.
Spain’s government had given Catalan President Carles Puigdemont until 10:00 am (08:00 GMT) on Monday to clear up his ambiguous stance on secession after announcing last week that he was ready to declare the region “an independent state” but called for more time for talks.
The ambiguous response is likely to be viewed by Madrid as a declaration of independence which would prompt the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to launch steps to take direct control of the region.
In response to letter, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said Puigdemont had until Thursday to comply with the country’s laws.
In an address to reporters, she said “it wasn’t very difficult to say yes or no. That was the question that was asked and the response shouldn’t be complicated.”
She said if Puigdemont doesn’t give a satisfactory reply by Thursday morning, Spain could activate Article 155 of the Constitution, allowing it to strip Catalonia of its self-governance.
Under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the central government can take direct control of its devolved regions if it deems them to be acting against the national interest.
But such a move could spark further unrest in Catalonia.
At the same time, separatist groups have vowed to stage mass strikes and protests if Puigdemont backtracks.
Last week, following an Oct. 1 referendum that went for Catalonia to break away from Spain, Puigdemont declared independence for the region of 7.5 million people, including the city of Barcelona. However, he quickly withdrew the declaration, calling instead for talks with Madrid on the region’s future.
Even so, Puigdemont and other Catalan lawmakers signed a document declaring a Catalan republic “as an independent and sovereign state.”
The declaration angered Spanish authorities, who had called the referendum illegal and tried to stop it.
The government of Catalonia says 90 percent cast a “yes” ballot on the independence referendum, but most people who opposed breaking away from Spain boycotted the vote. Opinion on the issue is reportedly nearly evenly split and turnout for the referendum was just 43 percent.
Spain’s most serious political situation in a generation has already prompted hundreds of businesses to start leaving the prosperous northeastern region, sparking fears it may damage the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.