Catalonia refuses Madrid's demands as deadline looms
Catalonia refused yesterday to bow to the Spanish government's demand that it renounce a symbolic declaration of independence, setting it on a political collision course with Madrid later this week.
The Spanish government has threatened to put Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, under direct central rule if its government does not abandon independence by tomorrow.
But Catalonia's government rejected Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's deadline.
"Giving in forms no part of this government's scenarios," Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said. "On Thursday, we won't give anything different than what we gave on Monday."
Spain's biggest political crisis in decades worsened on Monday night when Madrid's High Court jailed the heads of Catalonia's two main separatist groups pending an investigation for alleged sedition. The Catalan government accused Madrid of taking "political prisoners" and one of the groups has called for peaceful demonstrations around Catalonia.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, in a tweet following the detentions, said: "Sadly, we have political prisoners again."
The phrase was an allusion to the military dictatorship under Francisco Franco, when Catalan culture and language were systematically suppressed. It carries an emotional resonance given fascism is still a living memory for many Spaniards.
Justice Minister Rafael Catala hit back, saying the jailing of the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium was a judicial, not a political, decision.
"We can talk of politicians in prison but not political prisoners," he said.
"These are not political prisoners because yesterday's prison ruling was due to a [suspected] crime."
The crisis has deepened divisions at the heart of Spain's young democracy, underlining the complex sense of nationhood in the eurozone's fourth largest economy.
"They've crossed a line," said Eulalia Lopez, a 54-year-old office worker in Barcelona.
She said she and her colleagues would come out on to the streets if Madrid went ahead and took control of the region.
European capitals and financial markets have looked on with mounting alarm since October 1, when Catalan authorities held a referendum on independence in defiance of a Spanish court ban.
ANC leader Jordi Sanchez and Omnium chief Jordi Cuixart are accused of helping orchestrate pro-independence protests that trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles. The same incident also led to Catalonia's police chief, Josep Lluis Trapero, being investigated for sedition.