Ousted Catalan leader calls for defiance
Unseated president asks citizens to unite in peaceful opposition
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.
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.