Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain but said the effects would be postponed to allow for talks.
“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,” Puigdemont told the regional parliament.
He however stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote.
Earlier Tuesday, 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 Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.
Scotland urges Catalonia talks
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a diplomatic resolution to the Catalonia crisis and while backing Catalonians’ “right to determine their own future.”
Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, told her party’s annual conference that she hoped “dialogue will replace confrontation.”
“It is time for the Spanish government to sit down with the government of Catalonia,” said Sturgeon, who supported the right of the Catalan government to hold a vote on separation.
“It is time for them to talk and to find a way forward. A way forward that respects the rule of law, yes,” she said.
“But a way forward that also respects democracy and the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future.”
EU President Donald Tusk also urged Puigdemont against making a decision that would make “dialogue impossible”.
At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people deeply divided over independence, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose drive to break away has raised concern for stability in the European Union.
Anger on both sides
On Monday, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned that a unilateral declaration of independence would put “social cohesion” at risk.
Pro-unity and pro-independence supporters have staged mass rallies in Barcelona over the past week, highlighting divisions in Catalonia.
Anger over the police violence during the referendum swung some Catalans over to the independence camp.
But both Madrid and the Catalan executive have come under fire for their dogged response to the crisis and a lack of dialogue.