Catalan officials mull date to declare independence

EU officials urge talks between region, Spain leaders

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MADRID — Catalonia’s regional government mulled Wednesday when to declare the region’s independence from Spain, with some lawmakers saying it would happen Monday. As Spain grappled with its most serious national crisis in decades, a top EU official said Spain and Catalonia must talk with each other, even if Catalonia broke the law with an illegal referendum on independence.

Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who has said an independence declaration will come in a few days, is delivering a televised speech later today. He’s also addressing the regional parliament Monday to review the dispute vote — a session that his parliamentary supporters in the radical, anti-capitalist CUP group say will consider the independence declaration.

Spain, which has declared Sunday’s referendum illegal and invalid, is bitterly opposed to any independence move.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has said it will respond with “all necessary measures” to counter Catalan defiance, and is holding talks with opposition leaders in Madrid to forge a consensus over what to do.

The crisis in Spain grew more acute Sunday when some 900 people needed medical attention after police cracked down to try to prevent the vote. Over 400 police also had bruises. On Tuesday, huge crowds held street protests in Catalonia and unions staged a strike to protest the alleged police brutality.

Rajoy says any dialogue can only happen within the limits of the Spanish Constitution, which doesn’t allow a region to secede. Catalans, however, say they have earned the right to be considered a national entity and refuse any talks that don’t explore a way for independence.

Even when calling for dialogue, European leaders have sided with Spain.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans on Wednesday called for a negotiated end to the political deadlock, but said there is a “general consensus that regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law when organizing the referendum.”

It’s anybody’s guess what might happen if the prosperous northeastern region does actually try to secede. Spain could intervene to take over the regional government or it could even declare a state of emergency and impose martial law.

In a nationally televised address Tuesday night, Spain’s King Felipe VI came out strongly against the actions of Catalan authorities, criticizing their “irresponsible conduct.” The Spanish state, he went on, needed to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia, the richest region of Spain.

Catalan authorities say some 2.3 million people — less than half the region’s electorate — voted in the referendum Sunday. Many of those opposed to independence are thought to have stayed at home after the referendum was ordered suspended by a Spanish court. Of those who voted, some 90 percent backed independence, according to Catalan officials.