The Spanish government, in what appeared to be a veiled threat on Wednesday, said it wanted clarification on whether Catalan's leader actually made a controversial declaration of independence.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the central government could limit or rescind the province’s autonomy depending on the Catalan government’s response, saying it would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days.”
“We want to offer clarity and judicial security. The answer of the Generalitat (Catalan government) will mark events in coming days,” Rajoy tweeted after appearing at a special Cabinet meeting to respond to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence. Puigdemont, however, said the official declaration would be suspended for several weeks to facilitate negotiations.
“If Puigdemont returns to legality, the uncertainty ends,” Rajoy tweeted. “We advocate to recover institutional normality.”
It is the first time Rajoy had openly said Article 155 of the Spanish constitution will be the next step taken by government if Catalan authorities don’t backtrack. He said the government “wants to offer certainty to citizens” and it is “necessary to return tranquility and calm.”
Rajoy’s comments followed a highly anticipated speech Puigdemont gave Tuesday night in which he said the landslide victory in the disputed Oct. 1 referendum gave his government the ground to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain.
While pushing forward with secession, however, Puigdemont proposed the regional parliament hold off on the declaration to commence a dialogue with the central government in Madrid to help reduce tension.
The Spanish government has given little indication it is willing to talk, saying it did not accept the declaration and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid.
The tension between Madrid and Catalonia is being considered the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Puigdemont "doesn't know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go."
She said Puigdemont had put Catalonia "in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet."
Article 155 of the Constitution allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don't comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.
Some 2.3 million Catalans -- or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region -- voted in the referendum. Regional authorities say 90 percent were in favor and declared the results valid. Those who opposed the referendum had said they would boycott the vote.
Rajoy's government had repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, since it would only poll a portion of Spain's 46 million residents.
Catalonia's separatist camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain's recent economic crisis and by Madrid's rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.
The political deadlock has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.