AAA  Oct. 13, 2017 9:21 AM ET
Catalan leader faces mounting pressure from all sides
By ARITZ PARRA, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES 
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Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signs an independence declaration document after a parliamentary session in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Puigdemont says he has a mandate to declare independence for the northeastern region, but proposes waiting "a few weeks" in order to facilitate a dialogue. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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(AP) — Catalonia's leader faced mounting pressure Friday from all sides, with hardliners in the separatist movement demanding he declare independence from Spain once and for all. Spain's government and the European Union, on the other hand, want him to abandon the secession plans altogether.

Spain's deputy prime minister blamed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for creating such economic uncertainty that a recession could be in the cards, and for sinking tourism figures. She also said that Spain's government is considering lowering the growth forecast for the Spanish economy in 2018 if the standoff in Catalonia continues.

The central government has given Puigdemont a Monday deadline to make clear whether he has already declared independence for the region and to fall in line with Spain's laws by Oct. 19 if he wants to avoid losing some or all of the region's autonomous powers.

For Spain, Puigdemont simply has to say one of two words in his response.

"It's just a yes or a no," Deputy Prime Minister Saenz de Santamaria told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

She added that "it's in Puigdemont's hands" to avoid the extraordinary measures that would allow central authorities a partial or full suspension of the prosperous region's autonomy.

In addition to pressure from Spain, two key allies of Puigdemont's government called on him to ignore the Spanish government's threats and press ahead with proclaiming a new republic.

On Tuesday, Puigdemont told regional lawmakers in a speech that Catalonia was proceeding with a declaration of independence from a mandate provided by an Oct. 1 referendum.

But he immediately suspended its implementation for a few weeks to allow for the possibility of negotiations with Spain. The move disappointed some of the hard-liners in the secessionist camp.

Spain considers the referendum to be illegal and unconstitutional, and says its results are invalid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has rejected any possibility of dialogue unless Puigdemont backtracks, returns "to legality" and takes independence off the table. Rajoy has also said that Spain doesn't need international mediators to get involved.

If Puigdemont says he did declare independence, then he will have three more days to cancel any secession plans. If he refuses to, or doesn't answer, Rajoy has threatened to trigger for the first time a constitutional article that could give central authorities power to intervene directly in Catalonia.

The far-left separatist Catalan party CUP said in a letter dated Friday that Puigdemont should ignore the Spanish government's warning, lift the suspension and definitively proclaim independence.

The Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC, a civil society group that organized massive protests in support of secession, also issued a brief statement with a similar message.

"It doesn't make sense to keep the suspension of the independence declaration" given Madrid's rejection of any dialogue, ANC said in the statement.

Some politicians of the two parties in the ruling coalition have also expressed similar views on social media, with only a few of them calling for calm. The Catalan government hasn't given any signal of what it intends to do, but Catalan media reported that meetings were being held Friday.

Years of growing separatist sentiment erupted on Oct. 1 when Catalan leaders held the banned referendum despite court rulings and fierce opposition from Spain.

About 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the region's electorate — voted amid police violence to halt the referendum. Catalonia said 90 percent favored secession and it declared the results valid. Opponents boycotted the vote.

Starting from a week before the vote, more than 500 companies, including Catalan banks, multinationals and mid-size businesses have moved their registered addresses out of the troubled region, Saenz de Santamaria said Friday.

The move is so far mainly symbolic and has limited economic impact because it doesn't involve relocating offices, jobs or assets.

But Spain's deputy prime minister says that investment in Catalonia is falling and, citing industry sources, she said that the tourism sector in the regional capital, Barcelona, has seen business drop between 20 and 30 percent in the past month.

The Catalan government is "creating the conditions to plunge Catalonia into a deceleration and even an economic recession," Saenz de Santamaria said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also joined the appeal to the Catalan separatists for halting their secession bid, warning that such a move will only encourage other regions to break away.

"If Catalonia splits off, then others will do that too. I wouldn't like that," Juncker said Friday, adding that the conflict is a Spanish issue but one that could affect the EU.

"I wouldn't like a European Union that in 15 years consists of 98 states," Juncker said in Luxembourg. "It's already pretty difficult with 28."

Associated Press
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