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Catalonia leader urged to ignore Madrid and press ahead with independence

Catalonia's leader faced mounting pressure on Friday from all sides, with hardliners in the separatist movement demanding he declare independence from Spain once and for all.

Spain's government and the European Union, on the other hand, want him to abandon the secession plans altogether.

Spain's deputy prime minister blamed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for creating such economic uncertainty that a recession could be in the cards, and for sinking tourism figures.

She also said Spain's government is considering lowering the growth forecast for the Spanish economy in 2018 if the standoff in Catalonia continues.

The central government has given Sr Puigdemont a Monday deadline to make clear whether he has already declared independence for the region and to fall in line with Spain's laws by October 19 if he wants to avoid losing some or all of the region's autonomous powers.

For Spain, Sr Puigdemont simply has to say one of two words in his response.

"It's just a yes or a no," deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

She added that "it's in Puigdemont's hands" to avoid the extraordinary measures that would allow central authorities a partial or full suspension of the prosperous region's autonomy.

In addition to pressure from Spain, two key allies of Sr Puigdemont's government called on him to ignore the Spanish government's threats and press ahead with proclaiming a new republic.

On Tuesday, Sr Puigdemont told regional lawmakers in a speech that Catalonia was proceeding with a declaration of independence from a mandate provided by an October 1 referendum.

But he immediately suspended its implementation for a few weeks to allow for the possibility of negotiations with Spain.
The move disappointed some of the hard-liners in the secessionist camp.

Spain considers the referendum to be illegal and unconstitutional, and says its results are invalid.

Spain's prime minister Mariano Rajoy has rejected any possibility of dialogue unless Sr Puigdemont backtracks, returns "to legality" and takes independence off the table.

Sr Rajoy has also said that Spain does not need international mediators to get involved.

If Sr Puigdemont says he did declare independence, then he will have three more days to cancel any secession plans.

If he refuses to, or does not answer, Sr Rajoy has threatened to trigger for the first time a constitutional article that could give central authorities power to intervene directly in Catalonia.

The far-left separatist Catalan party CUP said in a letter dated on Friday that Sr Puigdemont should ignore the Spanish government's warning, lift the suspension and definitively proclaim independence.

The Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC, a civil society group that organised massive protests in support of secession, also issued a brief statement with a similar message.

"It doesn't make sense to keep the suspension of the independence declaration" given Madrid's rejection of any dialogue, ANC said in the statement.

Some politicians of the two parties in the ruling coalition have also expressed similar views on social media, with only a few of them calling for calm.

The Catalan government hasn't given any signal of what it intends to do, but Catalan media reported that meetings were being held Friday.

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