London– Spanish government has vowed to stop Catalonia from announcing its independence after police used force to prevent voting in a unilateral independence referendum, amid UN calls for an investigation into the violent events during the country’s worst crisis.
Justice Minister Rafael Catala announced that Spain could use its constitutional power to suspend Catalan autonomy if the regional parliament declares independence.
The minister said that under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the central government can suspend the autonomous powers of the northeastern region.
“The article 155 is there. We will use the entire force of the law. Our obligation is to resolve problems and we’ll do it, even though using certain measures might hurt. But, if someone declares independence, well we’d have to tell them that they can‘t,” stated Catala.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that about 90 percent of the 2.26 million participated in Sunday’s vote where ballots cast were in favor of independence. He reiterated that Catalonia now had the right to be free from Spain, yet hinting that this would not happen immediately.
“There is no button to push for independence, it does not exist,” Puigdemont said at a press conference.
He called on the EU to help broker negotiations: “It is not a domestic matter . . . It’s obvious that we need mediation.”
The president confirmed that Catalonia doesn't want a traumatic break, rather a new understanding with the Spanish state.
Puigdemont demanded that the central government pull out the national police reinforcements it deployed to the region over the weekend to thwart the poll, forcibly in many instances.
The Catalan president stated that the referendum was valid and binding.
“My government, in the next few days, will send the results of today’s vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies,” he pointed. Independence supporters have 72 seats out of 135 in the Catalan parliament.
Any unilateral independence announcement is expected to be opposed by Spain and Catalans as well who are deeply divided on the independence issue.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held urgent governmental meetings and also met with leaders of two other parties, the Socialists and the centrist Ciudadanos, where he had shown his readiness to study proposals put forward by other parties to respond to the Catalan issue.
The Spanish government announced that it is committed to seeking a joint response with other political parties to the “pro-independence challenge” in Catalonia after Sunday’s outlawed referendum, it said in a statement on Monday.
European Commission urged all sides in the Catalonia crisis to move from confrontation to dialogue.
“We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue,” it said.
The commission sent out a statement condemning the violence, saying that it can never be an instrument in politics. The statement also indicated the commission's belief that these are times “for unity and stability, not for division and fragmentation,” and supported Rajoy in the claim that the referendum wasn’t legal according to the Spanish constitution.
It added that even if Catalonia were to vote for secession in a referendum in line with the Spanish constitution, the region would have to leave the EU.
Chief commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas reiterated that violence can never be an instrument in politics, however, he declined to elaborate to reporters when asked about police violence.
French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed his support for Spain’s constitutional unity in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Rajoy, yet made no reference to the tactics used by Spanish police.
European states were very hesitant in commenting on the Spanish incidents, considering it an internal issue.
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, took a lead among European governments on Sunday by calling for leaders in Madrid and Barcelona to start talking.
“Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue,” Michel tweeted.
Spanish newspapers all criticized Catalan President Puigdemont for the referendum in spite of the government's decision that it was illegal. Newspapers also condemned the way Rajoy dealt with the issue. Mundo de Portivo conservative newspaper considered the government's strategy to wait until the referendum is done and send the police a failed strategy. El Pais newspaper also stated that Rajoy showed complete incompetence in managing the issue since the beginning of the crisis.