Madrid: Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont defended the region’s claim to independence, a move that may cause the Spanish government to begin the process of suspending self-rule within days.

In a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont said his focus for the next two months will be dialogue and called for a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible, insisting the illegal referendum on 1 October gives his government a mandate to found a new republic. The reply was not the clear yes or no that Rajoy had demanded by 10am on Monday as he sought clarification on whether Puigdemont had in fact declared independence in a speech to the Catalan parliament last week.

“More than two million Catalans gave the regional parliament a democratic mandate to declare independence," Puigdemont said in his letter. “Our proposal for dialogue is sincere, despite all that has happened, but logically it is incompatible with the actual climate of growing repression and threat."

Spain — backed by its European Union partners — refuses to contemplate secession by Catalonia, the biggest regional economy that accounts for a fifth of national output, and has ruled out any negotiations until Puigdemont accepts the authority of the Spanish courts. The region’s attempt to secede marks the biggest challenge to a political order put in place after the death of Francisco Franco that sought to tie restive regions into the young Spanish democracy.

‘This Is Enough’

“It’s apparent that this man is irresponsible and aims to destroy everything," Xavier Garcia Albiol, the head of Rajoy’s People’s Party in Catalonia, said in Twitter post. Garcia Albiol has consistently urged the prime minister to take tougher measures against the Catalan administration.

Rajoy has so far resisted demands to use Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to take direct control of the Catalan administration and sideline Puigdemont and his team. Last week, he said he’s prepared to take that unprecedented step unless Puigdemont backs down. Under the time frame Rajoy set out, the Catalan government has another three days to rectify its position before authorities in Madrid take their next step.

“This is enough for Rajoy to justify applying Article 155," said Antonio Barroso, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “When he does we can expect a high degree of mobilization on the streets as the independence movement tries to claim that the central government is moving ahead in a repressive way and resisting dialogue."

If Rajoy does take direct control of Catalonia, he will eventually have to call regional elections to facilitate a return to normality. Bloomberg

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