Ousted Cata­lan leader calls for de­fi­ance

Un­seated pres­i­dent asks cit­i­zens to unite in peace­ful op­po­si­tion

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Raphael Minder, Patrick Kingsley and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura

BARCELONA, Spain — In a de­fi­ant mes­sage, Cat­alo­nia’s ousted leader, Car­les Puigde­mont, called Satur­day for Cata­lans to unite in peace­ful “demo­cratic op­po­si­tion” after the Span­ish cen­tral gov­ern­ment took con­trol of the restive re­gion — an act Puigde­mont called “pre­med­i­tated ag­gres­sion.”

Puigde­mont said in a tele­vised ad­dress that “our will is to con­tinue to work to meet our demo­cratic man­dates,” in an in­di­ca­tion that his gov­ern­ment may at­tempt to ig­nore its dis­missal and, in ef­fect, cre­ate two com­pet­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions.

He spoke a day after Spain’s prime min­is­ter, Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, fired him and the en­tire Cata­lan Cabi­net and set a date for new re­gional elec­tions. ‘The min­i­mum pos­si­ble’

Madrid’s hard-line stance was an­nounced shortly after re­gional law­mak­ers il­le­gally de­clared an in­de­pen­dent re­pub­lic, set­ting up a show­down that es­ca­lated the big­gest po­lit­i­cal cri­sis the coun­try has faced in decades.

On Satur­day, a day after the Span­ish Se­nate voted to give Ra­joy emer­gency pow­ers un­der Ar­ti­cle 155 of Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tion to end the se­ces­sion­ism drive, the full force of the na­tional gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions went into ef­fect. Madrid took con­trol of Cat­alo­nia’s gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to a plan pub­lished early Satur­day.

Spain’s deputy prime min­is­ter, So­raya Sáenz de San­ta­maría, will take over the Cata­lan ad­min­is­tra­tion from Madrid.

Dozens of other Cata­lan of­fi­cials were ex­pected to be fired, but En­ric Millo, the cur­rent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Cat­alo­nia, told Catalunya Ra­dio on Satur­day that he ex­pected Madrid to make “the min­i­mum pos­si­ble” staff changes.

Puigde­mont, speak­ing from the Cata­lan cap­i­tal, Barcelona, in­sisted that Ra­joy was re­mov­ing a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment.

“These are de­ci­sions con­trary to the will ex­pressed by the cit­i­zens of our coun­try at the bal­lot boxes,” he said. He added that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Madrid “knows per­fectly well that, in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, it is the par­lia­ments that choose or re­move pres­i­dents.”

Madrid also took con­trol of the re­gional po­lice force and fired the re­gional po­lice chief, Maj. Josep Lluís Trap­ero. Protests in Madrid

Pere Soler, ousted di­rec­tor­gen­eral of the Cata­lan po­lice force and Trap­ero’s boss, sent a let­ter to his of­fi­cers, ex­press­ing re­gret over his re­moval and thank­ing them for their work.

Trap­ero, who is fac­ing pos­si­ble sedi­tion charges after he was ac­cused of fail­ing to stop pro­test­ers last month from en­cir­cling na­tional po­lice of­fi­cers, also wrote to his col­leagues. He re­minded them that their task was to “guar­an­tee the safety of ev­ery­body” in the com­ing days, should the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis spur more un­rest.

As Puigde­mont spoke Satur­day, throngs of Spa­niards gath­ered in cen­tral Madrid — many of them wav­ing flags, some wrapped in them — to protest Cat­alo­nia’s uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

“We are re­sist­ing xeno­pho­bia,” one man said into a mi­cro­phone, be­fore shout­ing, “Long live Cat­alo­nia, long live the king, long live Spain.”

The crowd chanted: “Don’t lie to us, Cat­alo­nia. You are part of Spain.”

Many pro­test­ers said that Madrid had to en­force its de­ci­sion to in­voke Ar­ti­cle 155. Some said that, if nec­es­sary, the army should be sent in, though most said it would not come to that.

“They need to ap­ply the law,” said Chema Martinez, 22, who de­scribed him­self as a pa­triot and a Catholic and wore a Span­ish flag with the Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus stamped on its cen­ter. New elec­tions

On Fri­day, Ra­joy an­nounced that new Cata­lan elec­tions would be held Dec. 21, the ear­li­est pos­si­ble date, in an ap­par­ent bid to show frus­trated Cata­lans that Madrid wanted to avoid pro­long­ing a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

By lim­it­ing Madrid’s con­trol over Cat­alo­nia to 55 days, an­a­lysts said, Ra­joy and his al­lies were hop­ing to quickly turn the ta­bles on the sep­a­ratists, who staged an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on Oct. 1 that had been de­clared il­le­gal by Spain’s gov­ern­ment and courts.

“It’s Ra­joy’s at­tempt to re­gain the demo­cratic ini­tia­tive, but also a sur­pris­ingly risky bet that he can re­ally beat the in­de­pen­dence move­ment,” said Josep Ra­moneda, a po­lit­i­cal colum­nist and philoso­pher.

“Whether it works will de­pend on the level of re­sis­tance to Madrid in the com­ing weeks, which per­haps won’t be that high given that peo­ple are ex­hausted and need a break.”

Spain’s at­tor­ney gen­eral is ex­pected to take le­gal ac­tion against Puigde­mont and other lead­ing sep­a­ratists Mon­day, pos­si­bly on grounds of re­bel­lion, which car­ries a prison sen­tence of as long as 30 years.

Emilio Morenatti / Associated Press

A na­tion­al­ist ac­tivist waves a Span­ish flag Satur­day in Barcelona, Spain. About 300 pro-union ac­tivists drove through the Cata­lan cap­i­tal to show sol­i­dar­ity with the Guardia Civil na­tional po­lice.

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