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People wave 'Esteladas' (pro-independence Catalan flags) as they gather during a pro-independence demonstration, on September 11, 2017 in Barcelona during the National Day of Catalonia, the "Diada." Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were expected to rally to demand their region break away from Spain, in a show of strength three weeks ahead of a secession referendum banned by Madrid. The protest coincides with Catalonia's national day, the "Diada," which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 and the region's subsequent loss of institutions and freedoms. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
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(CNN) —  

Catalonia is prepared to enter into a dialogue on independence from Spain “without preconditions,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told CNN on Wednesday, as the Madrid government took the first steps to imposing direct rule on the region.

Speaking a day after he appeared to delay a formal declaration of independence, Puigdemont struck a conciliatory tone, saying he favored mediation to resolve the crisis.

But Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave Puigdemont five days to clarify whether he had made a declaration of independence or not, after which Madrid could take over the Catalan government.

On Tuesday Puigdemont delivered an ambiguous speech to the Catalan parliament, saying that Catalonia had won the right to declare a republic following a disputed October 1 referendum. But he said the declaration would be suspended, in order to allow for dialogue.

Puigdemont then led a group of Catalan lawmakers in signing what appeared to be a symbolic declaration of independence. The legal status of the document was unclear.

Rajoy said after a meeting of his cabinet Wednesday that he had formally asked the Catalan government to clarify its actions before deciding how to proceed.

In a letter to Puigdemont released later, Rajoy said the Catalan leader had until 10 a.m. local time Monday to confirm whether the Catalan parliament had declared independence.

Rajoy warned in the letter that if the answer was yes, and Puigdemont refused to withdraw the declaration by the following Thursday, he could impose direct rule under article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

“The council of ministers has agreed to require formally the government of Catalonia to confirm if they have declared the declaration of independence, in spite of the confusion generated by the suspension,” Rajoy said after the Cabinet meeting.

“This requirement – prior to any measures the government may adopt under article 155 of our constitution – seeks to offer citizens the clarity and security that such an important issue requires.”

He called on the Catalan authorities to “return to institutional normality and go back to legality.” Rajoy has previously refused to hold talks unless Puigdemont drops his independence claim.

Puigdemont: Politics, not police

Rajoy’s challenge will force Puigdemont to clarify what may have been an intentionally ambiguous statement.

Asked by CNN why he had not pushed for independence immediately on Tuesday, Puigdemont responded: “In the first place because of a sense of responsibility. I do not want to declare independence, I want to make it happen.”

00:51 - Source: CNN
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He said he felt obliged to open a window for dialogue in response to international demands – adding that a formal offer of dialogue like the one he had made to Madrid “needs a response in days.”