Catalan leader Puigdemont to call regional election

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 Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is set to call a snap regional election for Dec. 20, media said on Thursday, a move that could help break a one-month deadlock between the Madrid government and separatists seeking a split from Spain.

Barcelona-based La Vanguardia said Puigdemont had taken the decision in a bid to persuade the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy not to enforce direct rule in the region.

Puigdemont will deliver an address at 1.30 p.m (1130 GMT), his office said.

The Catalan secessionist drive, is the most serious challenge to the integrity of a Western European country since the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when voters in the end chose to stay part of the United Kingdom.

It is Spain’s worst political crisis since the end of the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco in 1975.

European leaders fear it could spill over to the rest of the continent, hundreds of companies have left the region and the issue has fractured society in Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

Catalan regional police officers, Mossos d’Esquadra, stand guard near an entrance to the regional government headquarters, in Barcelona, Spain, October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Demand for Spanish debt and shares jumped on the news of a potential election in Catalonia.

The yield on Spain’s 10-year benchmark bond dropped by more than 6 basis points, while the leading stock market the IBEX extended gains to hit a two-week high.

It is not yet clear whether Rajoy will impose direct rule as planned or simply seek the Senate’s authorization to do so on Friday but without making it effective on the ground.

His government said earlier this week that calling a snap election would not be enough, and Puigdemont would also have to withdraw an ambiguous declaration of independence he made on Oct. 10.

Such an election could either strengthen Puigdemont’s mandate if pro-independence parties won, allow him a graceful exit if they did not or heighten divisions within the secessionist camp and bring the current campaign to a halt.

Cracks appeared late on Wednesday in the secessionist coalition as some members backed a vote while others said there was no alternative to independence.

An opinion poll published by the El Periodico newspaper on Sunday showed a snap election would probably have results similar to the last ballot, in 2015, when a coalition of pro-independence parties formed a minority government.

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