Mariano Rajoy has played a tough hand well, but Carles Puigdemont could yet emerge a champion of European renewal

The battle for Catalonia just got personal. Until now the main protagonists, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, have avoided a head-on clash. All that changed at the weekend after the Madrid government decided to impose direct rule. Within minutes, insults were flying, with the opposing sides accusing each other of totalitarianism and rebellion.

Puigdemont had deliberately provoked the secession crisis, Rajoy claimed. The problem was, he lacked the stature to handle such a delicate situation. “This would probably never have happened if a different person with similar ideas had been in charge,” Rajoy said. In vowing to sack the Catalan leader, he noticeably declined to rule out charging him with sedition and locking him up.

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