THE CATALAN QUESTION

Rajoy softens his approach as he plays for time over the Catalan self-rule imbroglio

PM saves jeers for Socialist proposal of constitutional reform to resolve dispute

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday adopted a placatory attitude toward the burning political issue of the day in Spain: Catalonia’s push for self-rule.

Rajoy took up the issue for the first time since last week’s massive Catalan national day demonstration in favor of the right to hold a referendum on the region’s status. Speaking in Congress, he extended a hand to the ruling CiU Catalan nationalist group but had harsh words to say of the main opposition Socialist Party’s suggestion of a reform of the Constitution in order to address some of Catalonia’s grievances and accommodate some of its demands.

His approach was in contrast to that taken by Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who last Friday said the government would act with “firmness” to the challenge posed by Catalonia’s secessionist drive in an apparent sop to the more hardline members of the ruling Popular Party.

Rajoy has replied to a letter from Catalan premier Artur Mas indicating that any vote on Catalonia’s status within Spain not sanctioned by the central government would be in breach of the Constitution. On Tuesday, in response to a question by a CiU deputy referring to last week’s march, Rajoy acknowledged Catalans’ “constitutional right to protest.” He went on to say: “Dialogue is the best formula to resolve differences, and we all have to act with responsibility, mutual loyalty and respect for legal norms.”

In response to a question by Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Rajoy asked: “How is it that you want to reform the Constitution when you have broken off all negotiations with the government? Clarify yourself.”

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