Spanish prime minister to sack Catalan regional government

Spanish prime minister to sack Catalan regional government

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The Spanish prime minister will sack the entire Catalan government and call new regional elections within six months in an extreme move set to crush the regional independence movement.

The Catalan president Carles Puigdemont as well as his cabinet will be removed from office, said prime minister Mariano Rajoy at a press conference on Saturday, while the ministries in the semi-autonomous region will be run from Madrid.

Speaking in Barcelona on Saturday night, Mr Puigdemont condemned the move by Mr Rajoy, saying that the Spanish government was attempting the “worst attack on the institutions and people of Catalonia since the decrees of the military dictator Francisco Franco abolishing the Generalitat [parliament] of Catalonia”. 

He said Catalonia “cannot accept this attack” and that he would convene a session of the regional parliament in the coming days to decide how to respond.

Mr Rajoy’s proposed measures must now be approved by Spain’s upper house, the Senate, where a vote is scheduled this month. The ruling centre-right party has a majority in the Senate, and so the measures are likely to pass.

“We are going to work to return to normality,” Mr Rajoy saidon Saturday. “We are going to work so that all Catalans can feel united and participate in a common project in Europe and the world that has been know for centuries as Spain.”

He added that the measures were designed to restore the law, guarantee public services as well as preserve the civil rights of all citizens.

This could be a turning point in the Catalan crisis, which has started to have a major impact on Spain’s €1.1tn economy. Banks have fled the Catalan region while tourism has suffered and consumer demand has been hit across Spain.

Tension has been building between Madrid and the Catalan government since an illegal independence referendum on October 1, where 43 per cent of voters in the region cast ballots and 90 per cent of these were in favour of independence.

The pro-independence Catalan government has taken that as a mandate to declare themselves an independent state, something the Spanish courts and the government have ruled illegal. Spain’s 1978 constitution says that the country is “indivisible”.

Mr Rajoy has for weeks been hesitating about applying article 155 of the constitution, which gives him power to use these exceptional measures. He was hoping that the Catalan government would back down or would fall apart due to internal divisions. But on Saturday he finally unleashed the full power of Spanish law.

This will probably not be the end of the story, however. 

Demonstrators protesting in Barcelona on Saturday © AP

The measures are likely to spark angry opposition from supporters of independence and moderate Catalans who will see them as an attack on their autonomy, potentially inflaming tensions on the streets of Catalonia.

Oriol Junqueras, Catalan vice-president, said that Catalonia needed to take a stand “against totalitarianism” while Marta Rovira, general-secretary of Mr Junqueras’ separatist ERC party, said Mr Rajoy’s actions were a “coup d’état”.

If the Catalan government refuses to comply with the Spanish state, analysts have questioned whether Madrid will be able to enforce the law without unacceptable levels of violence.

This concern has been building following the failure of the Spanish state to deliver on a promise to prevent the vote on independence on October 1. Despite enormous police pressure, the Catalan separatists held a vote. 

Two-thirds of the region’s mayors defied the Spanish courts to help organise the referendum. More than 2m people cast ballots, and thousands risked criminal charges by working as volunteers or hiding ballot boxes in their houses. 


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