Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave his Catalan antagonist Carles Puigdemont five days to clarify whether he has declared independence from Spain or not as the country celebrated its national holiday on Thursday.
Rajoy attended a military parade in the center of Madrid alongside King Felipe after leaving the Catalan president to mull over his next move with his options narrowing. Puigdemont has until 10 a.m. Monday to clear up his position. If he’s found to be in violation of the law he’ll be given another three days to back down. After that, Rajoy will trigger the legal procedures to force the Catalan administration from office.
While the army has remained firmly on the sidelines, the military is prepared to help impose order in the region if the separatists try to resist the state’s authority, according to a person familiar with the government’s planning.
“I’m almost completely sure that the intervention of armed forces in Catalonia won’t be necessary, but the army has the obligation to be ready to defend the country both inside and outside its borders,” Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal said Thursday in an interview with Spanish national broadcaster TVE.
Rajoy also plans to remove the Catalan police chief, Josep Lluis Trapero, who was interrogated by a Madrid court as part of a sedition probe last week, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing private conversations. A spokeswoman for Rajoy said Trapero’s situation is a matter for the courts.
The prime minister is looking to press home his advantage after Puigdemont failed to enlist international support for his campaign to break away from Spain and faced potentially fatal splits within his governing majority in Barcelona. The Catalan leader is trying to hold together a disparate coalition that includes both anarchists and conservatives with the threat of lengthy jail terms hanging over some leading activists.
“Puigdemont strikes me as playing primarily a tactical game — like speed chess,” said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a Chicago-based constitutional scholar at Northwestern University. “It’s not a game Catalonia can realistically win; the rules too strongly favor Madrid and it has too many strong pieces. This week the tide already seems to be turning.”
Most regional leaders joined Rajoy and the king for the National Day celebrations in Madrid — though Puigdemont and the Basque leader Inigo Urkullu stayed away.
The celebration was marred when a Eurofighter jet crashed as it returned to its base, killing the pilot.
Rajoy convened an emergency Cabinet session on Wednesday after Puigdemont appeared to claim independence for Catalonia but then suspended the process in a speech to the regional legislature the night before. Rajoy accused him of creating “deliberate confusion.”
“If Mr. Puigdemont makes clear his wish to respect the law and return institutions to normality, he would end a period of uncertainty, tension and rupture,” Rajoy said.