Spain seizes control of ‘independent’ Catalonia
After Madrid deposes him, Carles Puigdemont calls for ‘democratic opposition’ to takeover
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 |