The president of Spain's region of Catalonia has responded to a Monday deadline, failing to clarify whether he will push ahead with efforts for the region to break away from Madrid and signaling that the secession crisis is far from over.
The Spanish government had given Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont until Monday to provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
In a letter, Puigdemont told Spanish President Mariano Rajoy secessionists want to suspend initiating steps towards independence for two months. "For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue," Puigdemont wrote.
Following an independence referendum on October 1, Puigdemont said last week he was prepared for Catalonia to "become an independent state," despite a court ruling that declared such a move would be unconstitutional.
But Puigdemont immediately said he was suspending the secession drive to allow time for negotiations with Madrid.
The contradictory statements prompted Rajoy to give Puigdemont until 10 a.m. (0800 UTC) Monday to clarify his position with a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Rajoy said Madrid was ready to suspend the region's autonomy and begin to exercise direct control if Puigdemont decided to continue pressing for secession.
Spanish officials had said they would consider anything other than a simple "no" answer an indication that the independence drive would continue and thus begin steps to strip Catalonia of its autonomy. After receiving Puigdemont’s letter Monday, Spanish leaders indicated they would treat his reply as a “yes.”
“He has not answered the question clearly,” said Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria at news conference Monday. Saenz de Santamaria said the government would now give Puigdemont until Thursday to re-think his response.
Also on Monday, Spain's state prosecutor called for Catalonia police chief Maj. Josep Lluis Trapero, who is on trial for sedition, to be jailed without bail. A judge will rule on the recommendation later Monday, Spain's High Court said.
Catalonia, Spain’s most prosperous region, is home to 7.5 million people, has its own language and distinct culture, and is deeply divided over independence.
The Catalan government said that 90 percent of Catalans voted for independence from Spain in October 1 referendum. Many opponents of independence boycotted the vote, reducing turnout to around 43 percent.