Catalan govt plans response as Spain ups ante

Protesters waving pro-independence Catalan Estelada flags in Barcelona on Saturday. Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull says there has been a full-fledged coup against the region's institutions.
Protesters waving pro-independence Catalan Estelada flags in Barcelona on Saturday. Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull says there has been a full-fledged coup against the region's institutions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Catalonia's separatists were planning their response yesterday after Spain took drastic steps to stop the region from breaking away by dissolving its separatist government and forcing new elections.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional executive - who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on Oct 1 - will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures announced last Saturday by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

"Yesterday, there was a full-fledged coup against Catalan institutions," said Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull. "What happens now, with everyone in agreement and unity, is that we will announce what we will do and how," he told Catalunya Radio.

Mr Rajoy has taken Spain into uncharted legal waters by moving to wrest back powers from the semi-autonomous region, which could see Madrid take control of the Catalan police force and replace its public media chiefs.

The move sparked outrage among separatists, with nearly half a million taking to the streets of regional capital Barcelona on Saturday and Mr Puigdemont declaring Mr Rajoy guilty of "the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people" since the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Mr Rajoy said he had no choice but to force Mr Puigdemont out as the latter refuses to drop his threat to declare independence after a referendum that had been declared unconstitutional.

Responding to accusations of a "coup", Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis retorted: "If there is a coup d'etat, it is one that has been followed by Mr Puigdemont and his government."

Asked if Mr Puigdemont will be arrested if he shows up for work, Mr Dastis tried to strike a reassuring tone. "We are not going to arrest anyone," he said. "All the government is trying to do, and reluctantly, is reinstate the legal order, restore the Constitution but also the Catalan rules, and proceed from there."

But he warned that if Mr Puigdemont's government keeps trying to give orders, "they will be equal to any group of rebels trying to impose their own arbitrariness on the people of Catalonia".

Spain's Senate is set to approve the measures by the end of next week. Mr Rajoy has ordered fresh elections to be called within six months of the Senate hearing, which would see polls held by mid-June at the latest.

Ahead of a meeting of Catalan parties today to set a date and agenda for a crucial session of the regional Parliament to debate the next steps, Mr Turull has insisted that elections were "not on the table".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Catalan govt plans response as Spain ups ante'. Print Edition | Subscribe