Fresh elections could ease Catalan crisis

pain will not carry out its threat to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if the region’s separatist leader agrees to call fresh elections, a government source said Wednesday.

Madrid had earlier warned Carles Puigdemont that unless he drops his bid for an independent Catalonia by 0800 GMT on Thursday, the central government would start proceedings to reintroduce direct rule — an unprecedented escalation of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

But a government source told AFP: “If he calls elections, and in the manner envisaged, that could be considered a return to legality.”

Spain’s opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who is in permanent contact with the government, had the same opinion.

“The only possible path for Mr Puigdemont is to restore legality and, from a political point of view, move the elections forward,” he said in Brussels.

This would “without a doubt” prompt Madrid to withdraw its threat of suspending Catalonia’s autonomy, he added.

The tentative offer is being seen in Spain as a potential way out of the crisis sparked by Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on October 1, when a heavy-handed crackdown on voters shocked the world.

Elections sanctioned by the Spanish government — unlike the referendum, which the Constitutional Court ruled illegal — would allow Catalan voters to have a say on how to move forward.

Puigdemont has been threatening to unilaterally declare independence since the referendum, pointing to overwhelming backing in the vote — although turnout was only 43 percent as many of those who support Spanish unity stayed at home.

Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief Raul Romeva earlier Wednesday dismissed the idea of calling early elections, saying they were “not on the table”.

A Catalan government source seemed slightly more open to the proposal.

“We are not going to react to non-official declarations from the government,” the source said, adding: “For the moment this is not one of our priorities.

“We are not going to make a decision. We are waiting to see what (Madrid) will decide tomorrow.”

Puigdemont has found himself in a tricky position, caught between anti-independence voices urging him to back down and separatist allies demanding he declares secession.

The instability unleashed by the crisis has prompted hundreds of companies to move their legal headquarters out of wealthy Catalonia, while tourist numbers are down.

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