Catalonia crisis: Rajoy urges removal of region’s leaders, new elections – CNN
The unprecedented measures would be taken under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution and must be sent to the Spanish Senate for approval. This would happen happen in the coming days, Rajoy said.
The Madrid government announced Thursday that it would invoke Article 155 , a provision that allows the central government to suspend the autonomy of the Catalan regional administration.
The move, intended to quash an independence bid led by Catalonia’s regional government, follows weeks of division triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1.
Under the measures, the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, his vice-president and ministers would be suspended and replaced by the administration in Madrid where necessary, Rajoy said.
“The government had to enforce Article 155. It wasn’t our desire, nor our intention. It never was,” he said. “But in this situation, no government of any democratic country can accept that the law is ignored.”
In undertaking these steps, the government has four goals, Rajoy said. These are: to return to legality; to restore normality and coexistence in Catalonia: to continue the region’s economic recovery; and to hold elections in conditions of normality.
“The autonomy is not suspended, nor the government,” he said. “People are removed who put the government outside the law, outside the constitution and outside statutes.”
Rajoy said new elections should be called for Catalonia within six months but that he wanted it to happen as soon as possible.
“The only way for Article 155 to be stopped is if the Senate votes it down,” he said.
Rajoy’s Popular Party has a majority in the Senate. Two Spanish opposition parties, PSOE and Ciudadanos, have also said they will back the Article 155 measures, Rajoy said.
Protesters to rally
The crisis threatens to fracture Spain, one of the European Union’s principal members, and has prompted mass public protests.
On Thursday, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont threatened that the region could formally declare independence if the Spanish government did not engage in dialogue.
Puigdemont also demanded Spain end its “repression” of Catalan separatist leaders, two of whom were taken into custody on suspicion of sedition earlier in the week.
Pro-independence protesters are expected to demonstrate in the center of Barcelona, Catalonia’s regional capital, later Saturday.
Spain’s King Felipe VI said Friday that Spain was facing an “unacceptable” attempt at secession and that Catalonia must continue to be a central part of the nation.
The King added that a solution would be found through Spain’s legitimate democratic institutions, respecting its constitution.
EU leaders have backed the Madrid government in its handling of the crisis, which Rajoy insists is an internal matter.
European Council President Donald Tusk described the Catalonia situation as “concerning” but said there was “no space for EU intervention,” in remarks Thursday in Brussels.
“Institutions and member states are clear there is no room, no space of any kind of mediation or international initiative or action,” he said, adding that he was in constant contact with Rajoy.
Speaking Thursday, Puigdemont said that if Madrid “persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues,” the Catalan parliament reserved the right to formalize a declaration of independence that was suspended on October 10.
At that session, Puigdemont said that Catalonia had “earned the right” to become an independent republic in its October 1 referendum, which was banned by Spain’s Constitutional Court. But he suspended the effects of the declaration to allow for talks.
More than 2.25 million people turned out to vote on October 1, with the regional government reporting that 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low — around 43% of the voter roll — which Catalan officials blamed on the central government’s efforts to stop the referendum.
Violent scenes unfolded as national police sought to prevent people from casting their ballots.
Amid the uncertainty, businesses have started to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest region. According to a tweet Friday by the National Association of Registers, 1,185 companies began that process between October 2 and 19.
CNN’s Claudia Rebaza reported from Barcelona, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Erin McLaughlin, Lorenzo D’Agostino and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.
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