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Spain Moves To Strip Catalonia's Autonomy After Secession Showdown

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont addresses the media after a ceremony commemorating the 77th anniversary of the death of Catalan leader Lluis Companys at the Montjuic Cemetery in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday.

Updated at 5:15 a.m. ET

Spain was preparing to impose direct rule over semi-autonomous Catalonia after the region's leader Carles Puigdemont declined to categorically renounce an independence referendum, the prime minister's office announced Thursday.

Spain's government said it would hold a special Cabinet meeting and "approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards."

At the Cabinet meeting, the government would invoke Article 155 of Spain's constitution allowing it to strip Catalonia of its self-governance. That would take effect on Saturday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's office said in a statement.

Madrid had given Puigdemont a 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) deadline to clarify his government's stance on a non-binding declaration of independence passed by the regional legislature following a successful referendum on secession.

But the Catalan leader insisted on keeping his options open, but that wasn't good enough for Spain's government, which had insisted on an unambiguous "no."

"If the [Madrid] government continues to impede dialogue and continues with the repression, the Catalan parliament could proceed, if it is considered opportune, to vote on a formal declaration of independence," Puigdemont said in a letter to Rajoy.

Catalonia, which includes the city of Barcelona and is one of Spain's wealthiest and most culturally distinct regions, voted overwhelmingly on Oct. 1 to secede from Spain. Puigdemont then declared independence but suspended it in nearly the same breath while calling for talks with Madrid. Catalan lawmakers also passed articles of secession.

The referendum went 90 percent in favor of independence, but with only about half of registered voters turning out. Massive street protests in favor of unity came a week after the vote.

Thursday's deadline from the Spanish government came after a similar one on Tuesday in which Puigdemont was to have given an unambiguous "yes" or "no" to the question of Catalan independence. Instead, he demurred, saying only that he wanted to pursue more dialogue with Madrid.

His vague response angered Spanish officials, with Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría firing back, saying "it wasn't very difficult to say yes or no. That was the question that was asked and the response shouldn't be complicated."

Ahead of the latest deadline, Rajoy on Wednesday urged Catalonia's leaders to "act sensibly" and renounce the declaration.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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