Spain to grab Catalonia powers as crisis intensifies

Ken Copeland
October 22, 2017

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional ministers, who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum, will be stripped of their jobs, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.

Under Article 155 of Spain's constitution, Madrid has the power to wrest back control of rebellious regions, but it has never used them before.

The decision to press for the abolition of the Catalan leadership, impose direct rule and push for elections within six months followed a special cabinet meeting on Saturday morning, nearly three weeks after the controversial independence referendum took place.

Earlier in the day, the Spanish authorities chose to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which envisages suspension of some Catalonia's autonomy under specific conditions.

Officials in Catalonia says regional leader Carles Puigdemont plans to join an afternoon protest before delivering a speech in response to the Spanish government's decision to take over the regional cabinet's functions.

Around 90% of those who voted backed breaking away from Spain but only four in 10 cast their ballots. The specific measures need approval from the country's Senate.

Madrid could also seek to force new elections - its preferred solution to Spain's most protracted political crisis since it returned to democracy in 1977 - as early as January.

Spain's National Security Department said late on Friday that an undisclosed number of government websites had been hit in recent weeks with slogans supporting independence for the country's Catalonia region.

The goal is 'the return to legality and the recovery of institutional normalcy, ' the prime minister said Friday.

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"We are in shock about the suspension of democracy in Catalonia", said Podemo's Pablo Echenique, vowing to work to oust Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party.

"We are here because the Spanish government made a coup without weapons against the Catalan people and their government institutions", said Joan Portet, a 58-year-old protester.

He says "we demand respect for Barcelona and the plurality of its members".

In a significant upping of the stakes in his bid to rein in the region's pro-independence rulers, Mr Rajoy has said that although the Catalan parliament will not be dissolved immediately, its functions will be limited to "avoid measures contrary to the Constitution".

Spanish authorities are preparing to arrest Catalonia's president and charge him with rebellion if he declares independence.

The Spanish government moved to activate a previously untapped constitutional article Saturday so it can take control of Catalonia.

Catalonia has roughly split down the middle on independence, but residents cherish the autonomy of the wealthy, northeastern region, which saw its powers taken away under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Catalonia accounts for around a fifth of Spain's economic output.

Almost 1,200 companies based in Catalonia have re-registered in other parts of Spain since the referendum and and Spain this week cut its national growth forecast for 2018 from 2.6 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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