Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during a plenary session in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017. (REUTERS)
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain but said its effects would be suspended to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
“I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic … I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution,” Puigdemont told the regional parliament in Barcelona.
Though Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown.
The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy” if the parliament of the autonomous and affluent northeastern region presses ahead.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could take the unprecedented step of dissolving the Catalan parliament and triggering new regional elections, the so-called “nuclear option”.
The Madrid government could also ask the courts to strike down a declaration of independence as unconstitutional.
Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.
Both the Las Ramblas and Cambrils attacks are believed to be linked.
Who has been arrested?
On Thursday, one person from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla was arrested in Alcanar and a Moroccan was arrested in Ripoll. Both are towns in Catalonia – the same region as Barcelona.
Police say neither of the pair arrested was the driver.
Documents belonging to the Moroccan, 28-year-old Driss Oubakir, were allegedly used to rent the van used in the Las Ramblas attack but local media report he says his papers were stolen and used without his knowledge.
He arrived in Barcelona from Morocco on 13 August, the El Pais newspaper reports, citing police sources.
On Friday, police announced another arrest in Ripoll. It remains unclear how many people were involved in the plots.
Weren’t there other incidents too?
On Thursday evening at 19:30 local time, a car was driven into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona.
The car was later found with a dead man inside it, but the interior ministry has denied earlier reports he was killed by police gunfire. He is not believed to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing
On Wednesday night, an explosion completely destroyed a house in Alcanar, 200km south of Barcelona, killing one person and wounding seven.
Belgium said one of its citizens was killed and France said 26 of its nationals were injured, 11 seriously. The Australian government said at least four citizens were injured.
Who is responsible?
So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack and that IS “soldiers” carried it out. But it did not provide any evidence or details to back up the claim.
The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations but in recent years has not seen the kind of jihadist violence that has rocked France, the UK, Belgium and Germany.
Still, Spain has been targeted before – several trains in Madrid, the capital, were bombed by al-Qaeda inspired militants in 2004, killing 191 people.
The IS news agency, Amaq, said the attack was carried out as part of efforts to target states fighting in the US-led anti-IS coalition.
A few hundred Spanish soldiers are in Iraq, training local forces fighting the Sunni militant group.
How much jihadist activity is there in the country?
The number of operations carried out against jihadists has increased significantly since Spain raised its terror alert level to four out of five in June 2015, meaning there was “high risk” of a terror attack.
Before these attacks, 51 suspected jihadists had already been detained in the country this year, while 69 were detained last year, and 75 were detained in 2015, according to El Pais.
Security and surveillance was stepped up in the wake of truck attacks in the French city of Nice in July 2016 and the German capital Berlin in December.
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