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Catalonia crisis escalates as Spain set to impose direct rule within days

Spanish prime minister says Catalan governments powers will be returned to Madrid, as tensions rise between advocates and opponents of independence

Spain was plunged into political crisis on Saturday after the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced that he was stripping Catalonia of its independence and enforcing direct govern from Madrid in an attempt to crush the different regions leadership’s move to secede.

The decision, which inspired feeling across Catalonia, has intensified Spain’s deepest constitutional crisis since the restoration of republic in 1977. Commentators say the move could resurrect the spectre of Basque nationalism, and have repercussions across a Europe facing the rise of separatist movements.

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning, Rajoy said he was invoking article 155 of the constitution to” rehabilitate the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances “. The talker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, called the measures a” de facto coup d’etat “.

Pending almost certain approval in the senate on Friday, direct rule will be imposed next weekend. Citing the Catalan government’s” conscious and systematic rebellion and disobedience “, Rajoy said Carles Puigdemont’s government would be stripped of its powers and its functions would be assumed by the relevant ministries in Madrid.

The Catalan president will not be empowered to call elections, which Rajoy said he hoped would be held within six months.” We are not intention Catalan autonomy but we are allay of official duties those who have acted outside the law ,” he said.

Rajoy did not go into details of how article 155 would be implemented but a government statement said:” A series of measures will be introduced considering sensitive issues such as security and public ordering, fiscal management, taxation, the budget and telecommunications .”

In an address on Catalan television on Saturday night Puigdemont, spoke of Catalan, Spanish and English, described the move as the worst attack on Catalonia’s organizations since General Franco’s dictatorship between 1939 and 1975, under which regional autonomy was dissolved.

He said:” We cannot accept these attacks. Those who have spurned the Catalans now want to govern us. I will request parliament to decide how to respond to these attacks on republic and to act accordingly .”

Over recent years the Catalan government has been developing the structures of a parallel country in readiness for freedom. It has expanded the inland revenue department, as well as other parts of the regional administration, and established “embassies” in a number of foreign capitals. Under article 155, it is likely that everything of this will be dismantled.

The Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, accused the government of “totalitarianism” and a spokesman for the leftwing Podemos party, Pablo Echenique, said that Rajoy wanted to “humiliate” Catalonia. Echenique tweeted:” The most corrupt party in Europe, which has 8.5% of the vote in Catalonia and is going to govern it. A dreadful period for any democrat .”

Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, called the move” an attack on everyone’s rights and freedoms “.

Rajoy has the support of most of the opposition, King Felipe and the EU, whose commanders rendered him their backing at Friday’s Council of Europe meeting.

On Friday Felipe, who already faces criticism for his apparently partisan substantiate of the governmental forces over the illegal Catalan referendum, said:” Spain has to confront the unacceptable strive at secession by a part of the national territory .”

Recent government acts- the police violence aimed at thwarting the independence referendum, prison the leaders of the two major pro-independence organisations, the threat to jail the popular Catalan chief of police, and now section 155- all serve to reinforce the secessionists’ narrative of repression and colonisation by an anti-Catalan Spanish regime.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks to the press after cabinet ministers fulfill at Moncloa Palace on 21 October. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/ Getty Images

Nevertheless, Rajoy threw the blame on Puigdemont, “says hes” lacked the stature be addressed with the situation.” This would probably never have happened if a different person with similar theories had been in charge. But this is what happens when you put yourself in the hands of radicals ,” he said, a reference to the anti-capitalist CUP party that props up the centre-right Catalan government.

While Rajoy insisting that clause 155 does not suggest suspending autonomy, this is not how the move will be seen in Catalonia and 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday to demonstrate against direct rule.

Puigdemont and other members of his government attended the rally amid were afraid that the hitherto peaceful movement could grow violent. Direct regulation is a recipe for civil disobedience and tremendously increases the scope for conflict. The thousands of Spanish civil pickets and national police drafted in for the referendum are still stationed in Catalonia.

The deadline for Puigdemont is to determine whether he had declared independence extended last Thursday. The Catalan president declined to answer yes or no and threatened to issue a unilateral declaration of liberty( UDI) if the administration invoked the provision of article 155. Spain’s attorney general said that if Puigdemont said UDI he would be charged with “rebellion”, a charge that carries a maximum 30 -year sentence.

Puigdemont says Catalonia has earned the moral right to declare UDI after some 90% voted yes to independence in the unofficial referendum. Nonetheless, simply 43% of voters turned out, roughly equivalent to the percentage of Catalans who favour freedom, is in accordance with opinion poll. There is still time for Puigdemont to call an election, in which example clause 155 would be suspended, so long as he likewise disavows UDI.

A poll are presented in El Periodico newspaper on Saturday proved the issue is 68% is supportive of fresh elections. However, his PdeCAT party has not benefited from the liberty move and continued to slump in public opinion poll. Junqueras said:” We’re not here to hold elections again just so we can using the same mandatory we’ve already got .”

Article 155 has never been invoked and the decision could trigger the unravelling of the 1978 constitution that proved the 17 autonomous communities that make up Spain. The constitution was devised specifically to accommodate Basque and Catalan national aspirations.

The other 15 communities- including some that have no historic identity- were effectively devised to avoid the impression that the Catalans and Basques were get special treatment. Many now believe that this confederation of 17 regionsis obsolete and that national constitutions needs an overhaul.

As well as the resistance between Barcelona and Madrid, the atmosphere within Catalonia is also growing fraught, with developing tension between supporters and opponents of independence, with tolerance of opposing views giving way to acrimony and many people reporting they have fallen out with pals and family over the issue.

Like Brexit for Britain, the independence drive will start to resemble a collective act of economic self-harm, with big-hearted firms moving their headquarters out of the region as instability throws the brake on investment and business confidence. The association of small businesses reports that 1,300 have moved their legal HQ out of Catalonia. Tourism, which takes into consideration 400,000 jobs, is down by around 20%- a loss to the region of more than EUR1bn- and one Barcelona restaurant owner said the industry was facing” an economic tsunami “.

Rajoy, whose government was only last week encouraging firms to leave, objective Saturday’s press conference with an appeal to businesses to stay in Catalonia.

Barely two weeks ago, tens of thousands of secessionists assembled outside the Catalan parliament to hear Puigdemont declare independence, only to defer it seven seconds later.

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