Madrid: Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1, has been ordered by Madrid to say by 10:00 am (0800 GMT) whether or not he is unilaterally declaring a split from Spain. The Spanish government helmed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says it will trigger Article 155 of Spain's constitution, a measure that would allow it to start imposing direct rule over semi- autonomous Catalonia unless Puigdemont backs down.
A top official in Puigdemont's PDeCat party, Marta Pascal, told reporters that if Madrid triggers Article 155, then party members would ask him to declare independence outright. Madrid however appeared to offer the separatists a potential last-minute way out in the form of fresh regional elections to which a Catalan government source said that elections were "not one of our priorities" but did not rule them out. Catalans have grown increasingly frustrated with politicians' failure to find a way out of the deadlock, while the prolonged uncertainty is taking a toll on one of Spain's most important regional economies. Separatists argue that Catalonia, which represents about a fifth of Spain's economic output, pours more into the national coffers than it gets back and would prosper if it went its own way. But opponents say the region has more clout as part of a bigger Spain and that the instability could be disastrous for its economy.