Spain has called for a special cabinet meeting on Saturday that could start a process that would take away local powers from Catalonia.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made the move after Catalonia’s leader wrote that the autonomous area would seek independence unless the two sides began talks.
Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont sent a letter to the Spanish prime minister shortly before a time limit for clarifying his position on secession.
“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,” he wrote.
Rajoy’s office answered by announcing a special cabinet meeting that would discuss putting Article 155 of Spain’s constitution into effect.
A government statement said, the meeting will “approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interests of all Spaniards.”
The law gives Spain’s government the power to take away some or all of the area’s powers of self-rule. The article has never been used since Spain approved its democratic constitution in 1978.
Disputed independence vote
Voters in Catalonia approved independence in a disputed referendum held on October 1 called for by the Catalan leader. However, opponents said they would boycott the vote and fewer than half of voters took part.
The government in Madrid considered the referendum an illegal act and sent police to block voting. Hundreds of people were injured in clashes with police. The government added that many police officers also were injured.
Last week, Puigdemont appeared to declare independence in a speech to parliament. However, he suspended official steps for a parliamentary vote. Instead, he called for talks on the issue.
Wanting clarification on the question of secession, Rajoy’s government asked the Catalan leader to answer “yes” or “no” by Monday. The government also gave Puigdemont until Thursday to pull back from an independence claim.
In addition, the government said it would delay Article 155 if the Catalan separatist leader called for immediate elections in Catalonia to “reestablish legal order.”
However, Catalan officials have not accepted that request.
Europe watching closely
At a meeting of European Union leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU was watching events closely.
“We hope that there will be solutions that can be found on the basis of the Spanish constitution,” she said.
French President Emanuel Macron called for discussions of the crisis. He also has expressed support for Rajoy and called for “unity” at the EU meeting.
However, some European leaders oppose formal discussions of the situation. They say it is an internal issue for Spain.
Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous areas in Spain. The area has its own parliament and president. It also represents about one fifth of Spain’s economy and one seventh of its population. The city of Barcelona, the second largest in Spain, is an important center of technology, industry and tourism.
The area has a history of seeking independence for hundreds of years and carried out a referendum in 2014.
Andrew Dowling is an expert in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales. He said an independence declaration by Catalonia would only be symbolic without control over government institutions and borders.
He said Catalonia might already have seen the economic results of the dispute.
Spain’s Association of Commercial Registers says 700 companies have moved their registration addresses out of the region. They include Catalan banks and large to medium-sized businesses.
I’m Jill Robbins.
I'm Mario Ritter.
Chris Hannas reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional materials from the AP. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
autonomous –adj. have elements of self-rule, acting separately
secession –n. to withdraw from a nation or state
referendum –n. a vote on a single issue or law by the public
clarification –n. the process of explaining for better understanding
internal –adj. taking place inside
symbolic –adj. something that may serve as a sign, but has no real effect
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