A supporter of Catalan independence watches on an outdoor screen as Carles Puigdemont addresses the Catalan parliament © Reuters
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont stepped back from making an immediate declaration of the region’s independence on Tuesday as he called for more dialogue with Spain following last week’s referendum.
The Catalan president told the regional parliament in Barcelona the region had won the right to become independent after the October 1 vote.
“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” he said. “The ballot boxes said yes to independence, and this is the only language we understand.”
But Mr Puigdemont said he proposed delaying the independence declaration to start dialogue in the coming weeks. “We solemnly propose that parliament suspends the declaration of independence to undertake dialogue to arrive at an agreed solution,” he said.
A law passed by the Catalan parliament in the weeks before the October 1 referendum said that in the event of a “yes” vote, the parliament would declare independence within 48 hours.
Spain’s 1978 constitution says the country is “indivisible” and the courts have ruled that the vote, and any attempts and independence, are illegal.
The Spanish government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy has so far rejected calls to talk with Catalonia’s separatists over independence, calling for them to comply with the law. Spain’s constitution says independence is illegal because Spain is “indivisible”.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (C) is applauded after delivering his speech in the regional parliament, in which he delayed declaring independence and called for talks © Reuters
Mr Puigdemont said there were rising hopes for mediation, adding that Catalonia was “a European issue”.
Madrid had previously threatened to suspend the autonomy of the region and even throw Mr Puigdemont in jail if he declared independence, something that would probably have been resisted by militants on the ground in Barcelona.
It was not immediately clear how Madrid would react to the speech. Xavier García Albiol, the leader in Catalonia of Spain’s ruling Popular party, said earlier on Tuesday: “We are not going to accept any kind of independence declaration, whether it be immediate or deferred.”
Mr Puigdemont’s announcement came after more than 2m Catalans voted in the referendum on October 1, with most of them favouring independence despite extreme pressure from the national police. Catalonia has 5.4m eligible voters.
Before Mr Puigdemont’s address, Catalan police armed with automatic rifles guarded Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella parliament building. Pro-independence activists were gathering around the parliament, where big screens had been set up for them to watch proceedings.
There have been international calls on Catalonia and Madrid to back away from conflict. On Tuesday, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, made an emotive appeal to Catalonia’s government to step back from declaring independence.
He appealed directly to Mr Puigdemont to respect Spain’s “constitutional order and not to announce such a decision that makes a dialogue impossible”.
Mr Tusk also urged Mr Rajoy “to look for a solution without the use of force”.