Catalonia's leader faces increased pressure as a Madrid-imposed deadline looms for him to decide whether he is going to defy international pleas for unity by declaring independence or back down and unleash the wrath of his separatist allies.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech at the memorial of
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech at the memorial of "Fossar de la Pedrera" (Pedrera mass grave) in Barcelona, Spain, October 15, 2017. Reuters (Reuters)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Sunday called for calm less than 24 hours ahead of a deadline from Spain's central government for him to clarify whether he has declared independence for Catalonia or not.

Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday night, only to suspend it seconds later and call for negotiations with Madrid on the region's future.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given him until Monday to clarify his position - and then until Thursday to change his mind if he insists on a split.

Madrid has also threatened to suspend Catalonia's autonomy if he chooses independence.

"The (Catalan) Government and I want to reiterate our commitment to peace, civility and serenity, and also to (...) democracy as inspiring the decisions we have to make," Puigdemont said during at a memorial event at Barcelona's Montjuic cemetery.

"In these difficult hours of hope in Catalonia, let's take a clear attitude against violence (...) in favour of civility, hope, serenity and respect."

Though Puigdemont did not indicate how he would reply to Madrid, public Catalan TV broadcaster TV-3 said he would not give a "yes" or "no" answer, but a more elaborate response.

The Spanish government has said it will take control of Catalonia if Puigdemont gives an ambiguous reply.

"The answer must be without any ambiguity. He must say 'yes' or 'no'," Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told Cope radio on Saturday.

Puigdemont, who is consulting local parties to prepare his answer, faces a dilemma.

If he says he did proclaim independence, the central government will step in. If he says he did not, the far-left Catalan party CUP would probably withdraw its support for his minority government.

The Catalan government says 90 percent of Catalans voted for a breakaway in an Oct. 1 referendum that central authorities in Madrid declared illegal and most opponents of independence boycotted, reducing turnout to around 43 percent.

Under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the central government can suspend the political autonomy of a region if it breaks the law.

This article, which enables Rajoy to sack the Catalan government and call a regional election, has not been activated since the constitution was adopted in 1978 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported on Sunday that if article 155 was invoked, the government would replace the Catalan government with a new set-up to manage the region autonomously, which could be run by politicians or technocrats. Within three months, elections would be held.

Source: Reuters