Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont won't call snap election in Spanish crisis

Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont, in a highly anticipated speech that had been delayed on Thursday, said he considered the possibility of a snap election for his Spanish region but has ruled it out.

Opinion was reportedly divided within the independence coalition on merits of an election now

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announced his highly anticipated decision Thursday afternoon at the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday ruled out holding a snap regional election to break the deadlock between the central government and separatists seeking a split from Spain, sharpening the political crisis.

Puigdemont had been expected to announce an election in order to counter Madrid's moves to take direct control of autonomous Catalonia. But, speaking in the courtyard of the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Puigdemont said he had not received sufficient guarantees from the central government that holding an election would prevent the imposition of direct rule.

"I was ready to call an election if guarantees were given. There is no guarantee that justifies calling an election today," Puigdemont said.

Demonstrators in Barcelona's Jaume Square, with the Catalan regional government on one side and the city government on the other, await Puigdemont's announcement. (Daniel Schwartz/CBC)

He said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to move forward with a mandate to split from Spain following an independence referendum that took place on Oct. 1 — an event Madrid had declared illegal and tried to stop.

It was not yet clear whether Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would immediately enforce direct rule or simply seek the Senate's authorization to do so on Friday without making it effective on the ground.

Debate on merits of holding election

Exactly how the central government would enforce in practical terms, and how Catalan civil servants and regional police would react, is also uncertain.

National police used heavy-handed tactics to try to prevent the Oct. 1 referendum from taking place.

Some independence supporters are pushing him to unilaterally declare independence. Late on Thursday, the regional government's business head resigned over his opposition to a unilateral declaration, a sign of growing division in the separatist movement.

Puigdemont's stand sets the stage for the Spanish Senate to approve the takeover of Catalonia's institutions and police, and give the government the power to remove the Catalan president.

But it could also lead to confrontation in the streets as some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, speaking in a televised Senate committee, said: "The independence leaders have shown their true face, they have promised a dream but are performing tricks."

The aim of Article 155 — the constitutional device allowing direct rule — was to permit any election to take place in a normal and neutral situation, she said.

The pro-independence crowd gathers in Jaume Square. (Daniel Schwartz/CBC)

The political crisis, the gravest since Spain's return to democracy four decades ago, has divided Catalonia itself and caused deep resentment in other parts of the country.

It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy region and worried other European leaders who see it as fanning separatist sentiment elsewhere on the Continent.

Cracks reportedly appeared late on Wednesday in the independence coalition as some members backed an election while others said there was no alternative to independence.