Spain’s government set plans in motion Thursday to strip Catalonia of its autonomy after the region’s leader vowed to continue a vote on independence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s office said it planned a special Cabinet meeting for Saturday to trigger Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which gives the government the power to take away some or all of Catalonia’s autonomy.

Hours earlier, Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, said the Catalan parliament will go forward with a vote on independence if the Spanish government does not engage in dialogue and follows through on its threat to strip the region of its autonomy.

Rajoy had given Puigdemont a Thursday morning deadline to clarify whether he had in fact already declared independence following a referendum earlier this month.

Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence in an address last week, but said he was suspending any formal steps in favor of talks with the government in Madrid. He delivered his updated stance in a letter Thursday shortly before the deadline.

EU watching closely

At a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bloc was watching the situation closely.

“We hope that there will be solutions that can be found on the basis of the Spanish constitution,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a discussion of the crisis and a show of solidarity with the Spanish government at the EU summit, but a number of leaders and EU officials oppose adding it to the agenda, saying that the tensions are an internal affair.

Voters in Catalonia voted in favor of independence in an October 1 referendum, but fewer than half of those eligible to cast a ballot took part, with opponents boycotting the process. Rajoy’s government dismissed the referendum as illegal.


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