Catalonia leaders blast direct rule from Madrid

- Agence France-Presse, Barcelona

Oct 23, 2017-

Spain has taken drastic measures to stop Catalonia from breaking away, announcing plans to dismiss its separatist government and call fresh elections in a move the region’s leader compared to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers—who sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum—will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures laid out by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

After hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded Barcelona’s streets earlier on Saturday to show their anger at Madrid, Puigdemont said Rajoy was guilty of “the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people” since Franco, calling for the 

parliament of the semi-autonomous region to meet urgently.

Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist from 1939 to his death in 1975, and among other repressive measures took Catalonia’s powers away and banned the official use of Catalan language.

Cautious, though, Puigdemont did not once say the word “independence” as Spain and the rest of the European Union waits to see if he will carry out his threat to declare a breakaway state.

Barcelona police said 450,000 people joined a protest in the regional capital earlier, many chanting “freedom” and “independence” and waving Catalonia’s yellow, red and blue separatist flag.

Madrid could take direct control over Catalonia’s police force and replace its public media chiefs, with Rajoy saying he had no other choice, faced with a grave threat to Spain’s national unity.

Elections for the semi-autonomous region must be called within six months, he added.

The measures must now pass through the Senate—a process that will take about a week—but Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) holds a majority there and his efforts to prevent a break-up of Spain have the backing of other major parties.

The Catalonia crisis could cause a “dangerous dislocation”, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche, adding that he hoped the elections would “clarify the situation.”

Home to 7.5 million people, wealthy Catalonia fiercely defends its language and culture and has previously enjoyed control over its policing, education and healthcare.

Madrid has the power to wrest back control of rebellious regions under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, but has never used it before.

Rajoy said the measure was a last resort as Puigdemont refuses to drop his threat to declare independence based on the results of the October 1 referendum, which had been ruled unconstitutional.

“This was neither our desire nor our intention,” Rajoy said.

“We are applying Article 155 because the government of a democratic country cannot accept that the law is ignored.”

Allowing 54 days for campaigning, new elections would fall in mid-June at the latest.

Separatists of all political stripes, from Puigdemont’s conservatives to the far-left, have dominated the Catalan parliament since the last elections in 2015, holding 72 seats out of 135.

Prosecutors said on Saturday they would take former journalist Puigdemont to court for “rebellion” if he makes any attempt to declare independence, a crime punishable with up to 30 years in jail.

Published: 23-10-2017 09:41

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