Spain moves towards activating 'nuclear option' on Catalonia crisis

Spain moves towards activating 'nuclear option' on Catalonia crisis

Crowds of thousands gathered outside the parliament building in Barcelona on Tuesday ahead of Puigdemont's speech, waving Catalan flags and banners and screaming "democracy" in the hope of witnessing history in the making.

Depending on the Catalan government's answer, the government in Madrid could impose direct rule on the region.

Puigdemont says "the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form of a republic".

Puigdemont issued a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain on Tuesday night but then immediately suspended it and called for negotiations with the Madrid government.

"The cabinet agreed this morning to formally ask the Catalan government to confirm whether it declared Catalan independence", he said in a televised statement.

The European Union made clear that if Catalonia split from Spain, the region would cease to be part of the EU.

But Spain's political establishment rounded on Puigdemont following his declaration, and support among separatists in Catalonia was mixed.

Crisis talks will be held in Spain on Wednesday after Catalan leaders suspended a declaration of independence on Tuesday in favor of dialogue with Madrid.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria described Puigdemont as someone "who does not know where he is, where he's going".

He accused Mr Puigdemont of having created "deliberate confusion" and said he wanted to restore "certainty".

Following his declaration to parliament, Puigdemont and his allies signed an independence declaration outside the chamber, but its legal validity was unclear.

On the same day the president called for a united Spain, he said of the Catalan people, "If you have accurate numbers and polling, you would see they love Spain".

In Brussels, there was a sense of relief that the euro zone's fourth-largest economy now had at least bought some time to deal with a crisis that was still far from over.

The Madrid stock market tumbles as rattled investors dump Spanish shares.

There had been speculation that the Catalan President might declare independence and put the move into effect, plunging Spain into an even deeper political crisis, BBC reported.

The stakes are high - losing Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, would deprive Spain of a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of exports.

Spain has been in turmoil since a disputed referendum on October 1 which was declared invalid by the country's Constitutional Court.