Spain suspends Catalonia’s government, takes over regional police, calls for snap elections

  27 October 2017    Read: 400
Spain suspends Catalonia’s government, takes over regional police, calls for snap elections

Spain moved boldly against Catalonia on Friday, suspending the breakaway region’s government, taking over its police force and calling for snap elections in December, just hours after Catalan lawmakers declared independence, Washington Post reports.

Madrid’s actions capped a day of developments in the month-long crisis: Catalonia’s declaration of independence prompted the Spanish Senate to give the central government unprecedented powers over the region.

The two votes — one for independence, one to restore constitutional rule — came in dueling sessions of parliaments in Barcelona and Madrid.

The central government easily won permission to take over control of Catalonia. Meanwhile, secessionists in Catalonia faced bitter recriminations from Catalan foes who called the move for nationhood a coup and a historic blunder, a month after a referendum that backed a split from Spain.

The widening impasse has left little middle ground in Spain for possible compromises and has spilled over to the European Union, whose leaders fear another internal crisis after major upheavals such as Britain’s exit from the bloc and the financial meltdown in Greece.

Immediately after the vote for independence, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.”

Tusk’s remark mirrors fears in Catalonia that the Spanish government will employ police and harsh tactics to take back control of the region.

After the day’s votes, the Trump administration came down on the side of Madrid. “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united,” the State Department said in a statement.

What happens now is unclear, though the newly declared republic will struggle to assert itself. Spain’s Constitutional Court will almost certainly declare it illegal, the central government will try to take over the Catalan regional ministries, and few countries in Europe have shown any willingness so far to recognize an independent Catalonia.

The final ballot was 70 to 10 in favor of the declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament, where 55 deputies declined to vote, showing the deep divisions.

“We have won the freedom to build a new country,” Catalonia’s regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, tweeted.

Encarna Buitrago was with her friends in a flag-waving crowd in front of the parliament in Barcelona when independence was declared. Many began to weep at the news.

“Now we need to support our Catalan government. To go out to the streets! And now it’s up to the people,” said Buitrago, a pensioner. “If we are all together, we can do it.”

After the Senate invoked the never-before-used Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, the central government could move swiftly to remove the Catalan regional president, suspend his ministers and assume authority over the region’s public media, police and finances.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the Senate that his government had repeatedly tried to rein in the secessionists in Catalonia. He scoffed at Puigdemont’s offers of “dialogue” to end the impasse.

“The word dialogue is a lovely word. It creates good feelings,” Rajoy said. “But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

Rajoy urged the Senate to approve Article 155 “to prevent Catalonia from being abused.”

“Catalans must be protected from an intolerant minority that is awarding itself ownership of Catalonia, and is trying to subject all Catalans to the yoke of its own doctrine,” the prime minister said.

Other Spanish political parties also spoke out against Catalonia’s declaration. Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Spain’s Socialist party, said despite his disagreements with Rajoy’s government, “faced with the challenge of territorial integrity of Spain, there can be no nuance. Spain without Catalonia and vice versa is a mutilated Spain and Catalonia.”

In Barcelona, shouts of “Independence!” and “Democracy!” rose from an antechamber where hundreds of onlookers, including dozens of regional mayors, had gathered.

The eruption was answered by disdain from anti-secessionists in the chamber. A member of the Catalan Socialist Party, Daniel Fernández, asked: “What is this? The storming of the Bastille?”

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the left-wing national party Podemos, who defended Catalonia’s right to vote, added his voice to those criticizing Catalonia’s separatists.

“We are against the declaration of independence, not just because it is illegal, but because it is illegitimate,” he said. The Oct. 1 referendum was important “but doesn’t give them the right to declare independence,” Iglesias told journalists.

As for the invocation of Article 155, Iglesias said its coming implementation “will break one of the pillars of our living together.”

Carlos Carrizosa of the Citizens party decried the prospect of a declaration of independence, comparing it to a coup. He pointed at Puigdemont and said: “You, president, have been pro-independence your whole life. This whole plan was already laid out.”

“This movement is textbook populism, full of magical thinking, that reality has destroyed. You are willing to sacrifice all, for your pure fanaticism,” said Alejandro Fernández, a Catalan lawmaker whose Popular Party is also running the central government.

On Thursday, facing a looming deadline to act, Puigdemont appeared in the government palace in Barcelona and denounced what he described as heavy-handed negotiation tactics by the central government in Madrid.

“I have considered the possibility of calling elections,” Puigdemont said. But he ruled it out because “there are not enough guarantees” from the central government not to seize control of the region. He ultimately left the decision to the regional parliament.

Puigdemont reportedly sought a promise from Rajoy that the Spanish Senate would not vote on Article 155.

More than 2 million people cast ballots earlier this month for independence, though the turnout for the referendum was around 40 percent of eligible voters.

During the vote, Spanish national police and Guardia Civil paramilitary officers used harsh tactics, in some cases beating voters with rubber batons and dragging people away from the ballot boxes.

The president of Spain’s Basque region, Inigo Urkullu, a key intermediary between Rajoy and Puigdemont, told journalists that the situation in Catalonia “was very worrying” and required “responsibility” on the part of the two sides.”

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