World News

Catalan leader stumbles in bid for independence from Spain

Posted October 26, 2017 7:20 a.m. EDT

— The Catalan leader's high-wire bid for independence from Spain faltered on Thursday when he backed away from a plan to call new elections amid disagreement within his own party.

Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia, said he had considered the option of dissolving the regional parliament and calling new elections in an effort to shore up his position in the standoff with Madrid.

But in a public statement in Barcelona, the regional capital, Puigdemont rejected the idea, apparently because he could not obtain guarantees from the central government in Madrid that it would not press ahead with a plan to impose direct rule on the region.

"My obligation and responsibility is to explore all the possibilities, absolutely all of them, to find a solution through dialogue, an agreed solution, to a political conflict that is of a democratic nature," he said.

The announcement came after day of confusion in Barcelona. Puigdemont delayed the statement after two of his MPs said they were unhappy with the plans for new elections.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades on October 1, when Catalonia held an independence referendum, and Catalan and Spanish leaders in Madrid have been in political deadlock ever since.

Madrid slammed the referendum as illegal, but Catalan leaders took its results as a mandate to declare a split from the country.

Madrid has scheduled a vote in the Spanish Senate for Friday, in which members will decide whether to suspend Catalonia's autonomy and put it under Madrid's control.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has threatened for weeks to impose direct rule on Catalonia as a way to quash Puigdemont's plan to declare independence. He said Madrid had prepared all the documents to employ the never-before-used Article 155 of the country's Constitution.

More than 2.25 million people turned out to vote in the October 1 referendum, ruled illegal by Spain's consitutional court. Catalan authorities said 90% of voters favored a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low -- around 43% of the voter roll -- which Catalan officials blamed on the central government's efforts to stop the referendum.

Puigdemont's party fractures

The plan to call elections ran into opposition in Puigdemont's Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT).

"I respect the decision, but I do not share it," MP Albert Batalla said on Twitter, after a Catalan newspaper said Puigdemont was on the verge of calling elections. "Today I renounce as an MP and I give up my membership at the @Pdemocratacat," he wrote.

Another MP, Jordi Cuminal, did the same.

"I do not share the decision of calling for elections. I resign from my seat as MP and I give up my membership at the @Pdemocratacat," he tweeted.

It was unclear whether the two MPs would reverse their decision in the light of Puigdemont's later announcement.