As the clock runs out on a new deadline for Catalonia to clarify its ambiguous independence declaration, leaders in Madrid and Barcelona showed no signs of ceding their positions.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will impose direct rule in Catalonia unless regional leader Carles Puigdemont retracts the "suspended" declaration of independence he made last week by 10 a.m. (0800 UTC/GMT) on Thursday.
"All I ask of Mr. Puigdemont is that he acts with good sense," Rajoy told the Spanish parliament in Madrid on Wednesday.
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In Barcelona on Wednesday night, Puigdemont told members of his Catalan Democratic Party that he would move forward with a more formal independence declaration if Spain's central government took steps to suspend Catalonia's autonomy.
"The president said [at] his party's meeting that he will lift the suspension of the independence declaration if the government executes Article 155," a Catalan government source told Reuters news agency.
Article 155 of Spain's Constitution from 1978 allows the central government to take over any of the country's 17 autonomous regions should they break the law. Spain's Constitutional Court had previously ruled that Catalonia's October 1 referendum was illegal.
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Should Madrid invoke the article, it would not fully come into effect until early next week as it needs parliamentary approval.
Puigdemont declared on October 10 that Catalonia had earned the right to become an independent republic, but he suspended the implementation of independence and called for dialogue with Madrid. However, Rajoy says the central government will not negotiate until the Catalan president drops his demand to break away, which is illegal under the Spanish constitution that calls for the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation."
Spain holds its breath
There are concerns that any move to impose direct rule over Catalonia could inflame tensions in a political standoff that has already sparked massive street rallies across Spain, slashed growth forecasts, and shaken Spain's European Union neighbors.
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Rajoy maintains that Catalonia's government repeatedly broke the law by holding its banned independence referendum on October 1 and then issuing its suspended declaration of independence.
Puigdemont, on the other hand, says that a violent police crackdown and arrests of pro-independence leaders are evidence that the Spanish government is becoming more authoritarian. Speaking on Monday, he called for talks with the government in Madrid.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Barcelona on Tuesday to protest the jailing of two Catalan separatist leaders pending an investigation into charges of sedition.
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With its own culture and language, Catalonia is proud of its autonomy, but its 7.5 million inhabitants are divided over independence from Spain.
Catalan leaders claim that its referendum resulted in a 90-percent "Yes" vote, but voter turnout was only at 43 percent, as many who oppose independence stayed away from the polls.
rs/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)