Spain to Oust Catalan Leaders as Separatists Pledge to FightBy , , and
Prime minister plans to call regional elections in six months
Rajoy says his goal is to restore legal normality to Catalonia
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked the most far-reaching powers in the Spanish Constitution as he aimed to strike a decisive blow against the Catalan separatist campaign that’s divided the nation and put its economic expansion at risk.
Spain will dismiss Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his government,
and take control of the regional police force and public television and radio channels as part of a barrage of measures that could be ratified by the Senate within a week, Rajoy said at a press conference in Madrid Saturday.
“No government in no democratic country can accept that the law is ignored,” Rajoy said. “I’m well aware that this is a difficult moment; but together we will overcome it, as we have overcome extremely complicated situations over the course of our history.”
The decision brings the Catalan crisis to a new intensity, as the prime minister seeks to put down an unprecedented rebellion with the untested legal weaponry of Article 155 of the Constitution.
Puigdemont vowed to fight on even as prosecutors warned he could face up to 30 years in jail if he refuses to back down.
While Rajoy has the law, most of the country and ultimately the army on his side, the Catalan separatists are counting on widespread support from regional officials and an extensive network of activists who’ve drawn up plans for guerrilla action against export companies and critical infrastructure. The movement’s political leaders are considering a unilateral declaration of independence within days.
Supporters of the regional government flooded the center of Barcelona following Rajoy’s announcement with the local police estimating a turnout out of around 450,000. Puigdemont and Carme Forcadell, the leader of the regional parliament, led the protest.
“The Catalan institutions and the Catalan people can’t accept this attack,” Puigdemont said later in a televised statement. “We should defend our institutions as always in a peaceful manner, but also with dignity and with solid arguments.”
Puigdemont said he’ll ask the regional parliament to call a plenary session for lawmakers to discuss the “attack” by authorities in Madrid. Separatist leaders in the Catalan Parliament will also discuss a possible date for an independence declaration when they meet Monday, according to a person familiar with their plans.
Spain’s Chief Prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza said he would seek to charge Puigdemont with rebellion if he goes ahead with such a plan. A conviction would mean a jail term of up to 30 years, he said in televised comments Saturday, signaling the Catalan leader would probably be jailed immediately as a precautionary measure.
The more force Rajoy to bring to bear on the Catalans, the more strain he is placing on the complex network of national and international alliances that underwrite his authority.
Speaking on BBC television Sunday, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said there would be no arrests made against Catalan leaders, saying the goal of the Spanish government is to restore the constitutional order in the region.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who relies on Flemish parties with their own separatist agenda to govern, broke ranks with the rest of the European Union this month to suggest Spain consider international mediation. The Basque Nationalists, who allowed Rajoy’s minority government to pass a budget earlier this year have abandoned the prime minister since the Catalan crisis escalated, stalling approval of next year’s spending plans and adding further uncertainty to the economic outlook.
The Basques, who have their own separatist faction to worry about, condemned the Spanish government’s decision on Saturday.
“The measure is extreme and disproportionate,” Basque regional leader Inigo Urkullu said on Twitter. “It is blowing up bridges. The Catalan government has our support to seek a constructive future.”
Spain’s biggest opposition party, the Socialists, endorsed Rajoy’s action, along with the liberals of Ciudadanos. Between them, those groups have 250 out of the 350 seats in the national parliament. One Socialist official from Catalonia resigned from the party’s national executive in protest. The Socialist leadership had been urging Rajoy to take a gradual approach to restoring control of the region.
Catalan institutions have flouted the authority of the Spanish state since legislating for a referendum on independence on Sept. 6. Despite a series of rulings from the courts, regional officials went ahead with that vote amid a violent police crackdown, waving away complaints about widespread irregularities to declare victory.
The Senate debate on the measures is due to begin Thursday at 5 p.m. and a vote will be held at the end of the session. At that point, ministries in Madrid will take over the management of the Catalan administration while the prime minister will have the power to dissolve the regional legislature. He said he aims to trigger fresh elections within six months.
— With assistance by James Regan