MADRID — Spanish authorities gave Catalonia’s separatist leader five days to explain whether his ambiguous statement on secession was a formal declaration of independence and warned Wednesday that his answer dictated whether they would apply never-used constitutional powers to curtail the region’s autonomy.

Threatening to invoke a section of the Spanish Constitution to assert control over the country’s rogue region, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s response to the central government’s ultimatum would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days.”

Puigdemont announced on Tuesday that he was using the victory in a banned Oct. 1 referendum to proceed with a declaration of Catalan independence, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for dialogue and mediation with the government in Madrid.

His equivocal position seemed designed to appease the most fervent separatists, but also to build support –both in Catalonia and internationally – by provoking another tough response from Rajoy’s Cabinet. Spanish police used force to try to stop the referendum vote, producing images that elicited sympathy for the separatists.

Speaking in the national parliament in Madrid on Wednesday, Rajoy said the referendum Catalonia’s regional parliament and Puigdemont’s government held in violation of a court order was illegal and part of a strategy “to impose independence that few want and is good for nobody.”