BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia's leader called for dialogue with Spain and a meeting with the country's prime minister, complying with a Monday deadline to respond to a request from the central government to state explicitly whether the regional president had declared independence.
But Carles Puigdemont's letter, released about two hours before the deadline was set to expire, didn't clarify whether he indeed had proclaimed that Catalonia had broken away from Spain. The central government had explicitly asked him to respond with a simple “yes” or “no” to that question.
Instead, Puigdemont replied with a four-page letter seeking two months of negotiations and mediation.
“The priority of my government is to intensively seek a path to dialogue,” Puigdemont said in his letter. “We want to talk ... Our proposal for dialogue is sincere and honest.”
Spain has repeatedly said that it's not willing to sit down with Puigdemont if calls for independence are on the table, or accept any form of international mediation. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government has threatened to activate Article 155 of Spain's Constitution, which could see Madrid take temporary control of some parts of Catalonia's self-government.
Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala said that Puigdemont's letter didn't answer the question posed by the government. Spain's deputy prime minister is expected to respond to Puigdemont's letter in more detail at an upcoming news conference.
Puigdemont held a banned independence referendum on Oct. 1, and made an ambiguous declaration of independence last week. He then immediately suspended the declaration to allow time for talks and mediation.
In Monday's letter, Puigdemont also called on Spanish authorities to halt “all repression” in Catalonia, referring to a police crackdown during the referendum that left hundreds injured.
He said that the Spanish government should also end its sedition case against two senior Catalan regional police force officers and the leaders of two pro-independence associations. All four, including Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero and Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, were due at a hearing Monday in Spain's National Court in Madrid.
The sedition case is investigating the roles of the four in Sept. 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona as Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations.
The four were released after questioning Oct. 6 but the court said they would be recalled once it reviewed new police evidence relating to the referendum.
Trapero and Sanchez arrived separately to the court and were greeted by shouts of “traitors” by one or two protesters. Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leader of the pro-secession Omnium Cultural group who is also under investigation, were greeted by several dozen supporters from pro-independence Catalan parties who chanted “You Are Not Alone” as the two entered the court together amid heavy security.
“We're here to support them” Catalan Republican Left senator Laura Castel said. “What they are trying to do is channel the sentiment that has been prevailing for years in Catalonia for us to have self-determination.”
“I hope that justice will be genuinely just and that they can go home today,” said Castel, who said the possible charges of sedition didn't appear to have any foundation.
Court officials said it wasn't immediately known if the fourth suspect, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, would testify by video conference from Barcelona.
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