Spain Attempts to Remove Catalan Leaders and Seize Power

(Image: Juan Carlos Hidalgo - Pool /Getty Images)


Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy has launched a provocative bid to take direct control of Catalonia. Mr Rajoy said he wants the country’s senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an election as soon as possible.

Mr Rajoy said after a cabinet meeting that the central government needs to take the unprecedented step of assuming control of Catalonia to “restore order” in the face of a secession effort backed by the regional government.

His move comes just three weeks after Catalonia held a disputed independence referendum. Of the 43% of Catalans said to have taken part, 90% voted in favour of independence. But many anti-independence supporters boycotted the ballot, arguing it was not valid.

Yesterday, one of the MEPs from the proud north eastern region of Spain told the Plaid conference in Caernarfon that Catalonia will declare independence from Spain next week. Josep-Maria Terricabras MEP, of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party, said: “People decided independence so we will accomplish the wish of the people.”

Mr Rajoy’s move is being seen as an attempt to thwart any attempt by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to declare independence. He is proposing that the powers of Catalan officials be taken over by central government ministers. Mr Rajoy’s government is activating a previously untapped constitutional article to take control of Catalonia.

The move is aimed at blocking the independence movement that has gained pace since a disputed October 1 referendum on separating Catalonia from Spain.

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the national government to impose direct rule over Spain’s semi-autonomous regions in the event of a crisis. It has never before been invoked in democratic Spain.

It says that if a region’s government “acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain”, Madrid can “take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply”. Catalonia currently enjoys significant autonomy from Spain, including control over its own policing, education and healthcare.

Regional leader Carles Puigdemont plans to join an afternoon protest before delivering a speech in response to the Spanish government’s decision to take over the regional cabinet’s functions, officials in Catalonia said. In the streets of Barcelona, banging pots and pans and honking cars greeted Mr Rajoy’s announcement.

At the national level, Pablo Echenique, a secretary in the far-left Podemos party, vowed to work to oust Mr Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party.

Pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party president Albert Rivera says he supports the announced measures to heal divisions created by the Catalan independence movement and to provide the security companies need to remain in Catalonia.





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