Catalans Plan Human Shield to Block Madrid TakeoverBy
Lawmakers in Barcelona parliament will convene on Thursday
Rajoy to oust Catalan government and run region from Madrid
Catalan separatists are mobilizing a human shield to block efforts by the Spanish authorities to take control of the breakaway region as both sides prepare to escalate the political conflict.
Groups will concentrate their activists around the regional government’s headquarters in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and the nearby parliament building, according to two people familiar with the plans, asking not to be identified by name. They expect Spanish police to use force to try to shut down the administration and will put their bodies on the line, said one person.
"We are calling for a peaceful and democratic defense of the institutions," Lluis Corominas, the leader of the main separatist group in the Catalan Parliament, said at a press conference in Barcelona. Regional President Carles Puigdemont has called for similar action.
It’s a critical week of brinkmanship. The Catalan leadership was left to plot its next move following Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s declaration of unprecedented measures to reassert his authority. The rebels in Barcelona are running out of options while Madrid attempts to bring an end to the country’s most dramatic political crisis for four decades.
The showdown may come at the end of the week.
Puigdemont, who accused Rajoy of a "coup d’etat," is set to be ousted by the Spanish government and his allies are signaling he could declare independence. The legislature in Barcelona, which is controlled by separatist parties, will convene on Thursday and Friday just as Rajoy is expected to win approval from the Senate for his crackdown. Puigdemont may travel to Madrid to address the Senate, a Catalan lawmaker said on Monday.
Rajoy on Saturday shocked many observers with plans to clear out the entire separatist administration in Barcelona and take control of key institutions including public media and the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Spain’s chief prosecutor said that if Puigdemont declares independence he would face as much as 30 years in jail and signaled that he could be arrested immediately.
The euro weakened as investors watched for the next big development. The common European currency slipped 0.4 percent to $1.1735. Spain’s benchmark IBEX stock index was down 0.4 percent at 3 p.m. Madrid time.
Spain is trying to snuff out an independence drive that’s been gathering momentum since Rajoy took office in 2011.
Puigdemont’s challenge to Rajoy’s authority culminated in a referendum on independence held Oct. 1 that the Spanish constitutional court had declared illegal and whose validity Rajoy fiercely contests. Puigdemont claims the vote gives him a mandate to declare a Catalan republic.
The constitutional battle is wounding the economy, prompted companies to decamp from the region and is dividing the nation. With Spain’s upper house set to give its seal of approval to his strategy by the end of this week, the focus is shifting to the mechanics of how Madrid can take charge of Catalonia’s institutions in the face of secessionist resistance.
“Catalan government officials and many within the Mossos and Catalan media are not just going to stand down without a fight,” said Caroline Gray, a lecturer in politics and Spanish at Aston University in the U.K. who specializes in nationalist movements. “The big question for me, really, is how Madrid is actually going to implement its proposed actions in Catalonia.”
Rajoy is wielding the untested powers of Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution to try to impose central government control on Catalonia. The aim ultimately is to trigger regional elections within six months.
Spain will seek to apply the clause gradually, but will act against people with the administration who obstruct it, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told Onda Cero radio on Monday. She said the Senate could still “adapt” its decision on allowing Rajoy to enforce Article 155 if Puigdemont denies he’s declaring independence.
The separatists have shown they can rally support. A crowd estimated by local police at around 450,000 joined him to protest in central Barcelona after Rajoy announced his plans. CUP, a pro-secessionist party, on Monday called for mass civil disobedience in Catalonia, Ara newspaper reported.
— With assistance by Charles Penty, and Maria Tadeo