Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont has proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain, but says the split will be suspended to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
“I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic … I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution,” Mr Puigdemont told the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday.
Though Mr Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown.
The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy” if the parliament of the autonomous and affluent northeastern region presses ahead.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could take the unprecedented step of dissolving the Catalan parliament and triggering new regional elections, the so-called “nuclear option”.
The Madrid government could also ask the courts to strike down a declaration of independence as unconstitutional.
Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Mr Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.
Catalan residents took to the polls and the streets on October 2 in a day of chaos that saw at leat 844 civilians injured by Spanish riot police.
Police smashed their way into Catalan polling stations to try to halt a disputed referendum on independence, while rubber bullets were fired into demonstrating crowds and voters were attacked during the daylong melee.
Spain’s King Felipe VI later said Catalan authorities deliberately bent the law with “irresponsible conduct” and the Spanish state needed to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia.
Delivering an address to the nation by television on October 4, the king said the bid by authorities in the northeastern region to push ahead with independence has “undermined coexistence” in Catalonia.
The state needs to ensure Spain’s constitutional order and the correct functioning of Catalan institutions and rule of law, he said.