Spain seizes con­trol of ‘in­de­pen­dent’ Cat­alo­nia

Af­ter Madrid de­poses him, Car­les Puigde­mont calls for ‘demo­cratic op­po­si­tion’ to takeover

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - AGEN­CIES @ Madrid

SPAIN on Satur­day moved to as­sert di­rect rule over Cat­alo­nia, re­plac­ing its ex­ec­u­tive and top of­fi­cials to quash an in­de­pen­dence drive that has pushed the coun­try into un­charted wa­ters and sent shock waves through Europe.

As thou­sands ral­lied in Madrid in sup­port for Span­ish unity, a gov­ern­ment no­tice of­fi­cially de­posed re­gional leader Car­les Puigde­mont and his deputy Oriol Jun­queras. The an­nounce­ment placed Deputy Prime Min­is­ter So­raya Saenz de San­ta­maria in charge of the re­gion.

It is the first time the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment has cur­tailed au­ton­omy in the re­gion since dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco’s re­pres­sive 1939-75 rule.

Madrid also fired re­gional po­lice chief Josep Lluis Trap­ero, seen as an ally of Cat­alo­nia’s sep­a­ratist lead­ers, and put the in­te­rior min­istry in charge of his depart­ment in a move likely to fur­ther es­ca­late ten­sions.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy re­sponded to Fri­day’s Cata­lan vote by fir­ing the gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment and call­ing De­cem­ber 21 elections to re­place them.

We need to keep de­fend­ing the stage which we have en­tered with a tire­less sense of civic re­spon­si­bil­ity and peace­ful com­mit­ment In a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, only par­lia­ments can pick or dis­miss pres­i­dents Car­les Puigde­mont, Cat­alo­nia leader

CAT­ALO­NIA’S se­ces­sion­ist leader on Satur­day de­fi­antly called for “demo­cratic op­po­si­tion” to di­rect rule im­posed by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment on the semi-au­ton­o­mous re­gion af­ter its par­liame n t d e c l a r e d u n i l a t e r a l in­de­pen­dence.

“The best way to de­fend what we have achieved to date is demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to the ap­pli­ca­tion of ar­ti­cle 155,” Car­les Puigd e mo n t , wh o w a s of­fi­cially de­posed by Madrid on Fri­day, said in a care­fully-worded tele­vised state­ment that ap­peared to in­di­cate he did not acce pt his dis­missal.

Puigde­mont was re­fer­ring to the never-be­fore-used con­sti­tu­tional ar­ti­cle that gives Madrid the takeover pow­ers, ad­ding he and his team would keep work­ing “to build a free coun­try.”

In his first com­ments since be­ing de­posed as pres­i­dent of Cat­alo­nia, flanked by a Cata­lan and EU flag, he did not clar­ify whether he would carry on as leader of a new repub­lic that is not recog­nised by Madrid or abroad.

The Cata­lan par­lia­ment has been dis­solved by Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, who also called snap re­gional elections on De­cem­ber 21 in a bid to re­store “nor­mal­ity.” Spain’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment has also been granted sweep­ing pow­ers by the Se­nate to dis­miss Puigde­mont and his ex­ec­u­tive, and take con­trol of all re­gional min­istries.

In a copy of his speech, Puigde­mont signed off as “pres­i­dent of the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment,” im­ply­ing he con­sid­ered him­self to still of­fi­cially be head of the semi-au­ton­o­mous re­gion. He stopped short of sign­ing off as pres­i­dent of the repub­lic, though.

The world is now watch­ing to see whether Puigde­mont and his team will will­ingly step aside for care­taker en­voys to be sent from Madrid.

An­a­lysts warn that up­heaval is likely, as civil ser­vants may defy di­rect or­ders, or worse.

“We are likely to see more sus­tained un­rest, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing strikes, as well as more se­ri­ous clashes between na­tional po­lice and pro-in­de­pen­dence ac­tivists,” said Fed­erico Santi, an an­a­lyst at Eura­sia Group, a USbased think-tank.

“We will con­tinue to work to build a free coun­try,” Puigde­mont said. But this must be done “without vi­o­lence, without in­sults, in an in­clu­sive way,” he in­sisted, and urged sup­port­ers to re­spect the op­po­si­tion of pro-union­ists.

The streets of Barcelona were empty Satur­day af­ter a night of fire­work-lit cel­e­bra­tions. But in Madrid, sev­eral thou­sand gath­ered on the cen­tral Plaza Colon, wav­ing the Span­ish flag.


Peo­ple hold a sign read­ing “(Cata­lan re­gional pres­i­dent Car­les) Puigde­mont to prison” dur­ing a demon­stra­tion call­ing for unity in Madrid on Satur­day |

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