Spain’s central government threatened Thursday it will press ahead with suspending Catalonia's autonomy after the region's leader Carles Puigdemont warned he may declare independence.
The central government in Madrid had given Puigdemont until 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Thursday to say whether or not he was declaring a breakaway state in the semi-autonomous region following the referendum on October 1.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had warned he would trigger Article 155 of Spain's constitution -- a never-before-used measure allowing it to impose direct rule over the northeastern region -- unless the separatist leader backed down.
There are fears that such a move, allowing the government to potentially suspend Puigdemont's government and take over its police force, could spark unrest in the region.
Puigdemont responded Thursday that Catalan lawmakers could vote to declare secession unilaterally if Madrid triggers Article 155.
"If the central government persists in preventing dialogue and continuing repression, Catalonia's parliament could proceed... to vote for a formal declaration of independence," he wrote in a letter to Rajoy, adding that a cryptic "suspended" independence declaration he issued last week did not amount to breaking away.
The government hit back by saying it intends to push on with triggering Article 155 -- a process that would take several days -- to "restore legality" in the region.
In an unprecedented move since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s, Rajoy called an emergency cabinet meeting for Saturday to specify how it will take control over the region.