Spain demands Catalonia elect new leaders weeks after region voted for independence – Washington Post
BREAKING NEWS: In landmark move, Spain demands that Catalonia elect new leaders weeks after the region voted for independence.
Top ministers on Saturday called for a new round of elections “in a climate of normality” within six months to replace the current leadership of Catalonia, the restive region of more than 7 million led by secessionists who are pushing to carve out an independent nation.
The central government’s move to intervene in the region’s autonomy came 20 days after a chaotic referendum in which independence was declared.
BARCELONA — Spain’s top ministers met Saturday morning behind closed doors in Madrid to decide exactly how to take control of government in Catalonia, the restive region led by secessionists who are pushing to carve out an independent nation.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said he is ready to take the unprecedented step to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, which allows the central government to seize control of the region.
The nation was waiting to hear the details.
In a document released Saturday, the government said it will request that the Spanish senate approve the application of Article 155 next Friday because of the Catalonia government’s “flagrant, obstinate and deliberate noncompliance” in its constitutional obligations by launching its bid to secede from Spain, “with rebel, systematic and conscious disobedience.”
The separatists in Catalonia staged a chaotic referendum deemed illegal by Madrid, but one in which more than 2 million people voted to declare independence. However, the total turnout for the vote was less than half of the region’s total population.
Leaders in Catalonia first declared independence but then suspended the move, saying they were willing to begin talks with the central government. Their calls for Europe to come and mediate the dispute have not been answered.
At a news conference Friday night at the close of the E.U. summit in Brussels, the Spanish prime minister said he was “forced to act” to save preserve Spanish unity.
“It simply cannot be, in today’s Europe, that there is a country where the law is not observed,” Rajoy said.
Catalonia, with its own language and culture, already enjoys considerable autonomy, with control of its own health care, education and regional police.
Leaders in Madrid have said the central government may take control of the Catalan police force, Mossos D’Esquadra, and the Catalan public broadcaster. They could also suspend the regional parliament and take over the regional finance and interior ministries.
Rajoy said Article 155 would be invoked “to restore institutional legality and normality.”
The measure, however, has never been used and it is untested as a tool.
After Rajoy’s cabinet outlines its plan to take control of Catalonia, the parliament must approve the measures. A vote in the upper house is expected next week.
How the Catalan government and people will react is unclear.
The Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras, told The Washington Post, “The citizens of Catalonia are ready to defend democracy through all legal means and rights.” At the same time, however, about seven in 10 Catalans surveyed support a call for new elections, according a poll conducted by Gabinet d’Estudis Socials i Opinió Pública for the Barcelona-based daily El Periodico.
Asked about the possibility of violence, Junqueras said: “Here the response is very simple. The Spanish government will have to explain to the world how it justifies violence against peaceful protesters.”
The vice president expected to see mass demonstrations.
During the Oct. 1 referendum, National Police and Civil Guard officers used harsh tactics, in some cases beating voters with rubber batons and dragging people away from the ballot boxes.
If Madrid begins to take over Catalan institutions and ministries next week, civil society groups here promise street demonstrations and civil disobedience.
It is possible the regional police may stop work and civil employees will walk out. The unions could call general strikes.
In Madrid, opposition leaders say they want a short, limited takeover of Catalonia, with a call for snap elections.
But it is unclear whether new elections would solve problems for the central government. It is likely that pro-independence parties have grown in popularity in recent weeks. It is also possible that the Catalan parties could boycott an election pressed upon them by outsiders.
McAuley reported from Paris.
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