BRUSSELS/BARCELONA (REUTERS, AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday (Oct 20) he would announce on Saturday measures to impose direct rule on the wealthy region of Catalonia over its bid to secede.
Speaking in Brussels, Rajoy added the measures, based on a never-before-used article of Spain’s 1978 constitution, would have backing from the main opposition Socialist party, and centrist group Ciudadanos.
Rajoy has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Oct 21.
Meanwhile in the restive region, separatists were flocking to withdraw cash Friday in protest at the central government and at banks who have moved their headquarters out of the Spanish region over its independence crisis.
Some protesters were making symbolic withdrawals of 155 euros - a reference to Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which Madrid is using to start imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous region as the standoff following its Oct 1 independence referendum continues to escalate.
Others were opting for 1,714 euros in a nod to 1714, a highly symbolic date for independence supporters marking the capture of Barcelona by the troops of King Felipe V, who then moved to reduce the rights of rebellious regions.
"It's a way of protesting. We don't want to do any harm to the Spanish or Catalan economy," said Roser Cobos, a 42-year-old lawyer who had just taken out 1,714 euros from the counter at a bank in Barcelona.
"It's the only way in which Catalans can show their disagreement with the attitude of the Spanish state."
Two influential grassroots separatist groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, had issued a call on social media for activists to take "peaceful direct action" to show their opposition to the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The two groups, whose leaders were detained last week pending investigation into sedition charges, specifically urged supporters to withdraw cash from the five main bank chains, "ideally between 8:00 am and 9:00 am".
'We have to react'
Joaquim Curbet, a 58-year-old editor, proudly brandished the 155 euros he had just taken out, expressing hope that the protest "would put pressure on the Spanish government".
Several people could be seen queueing at a CaixaBank ATM on a central boulevard of Barcelona, the regional capital.
One of its cash machines was already displaying a "temporarily out of service" message at 8:10 am.
Marta Bernard, a 53-year-old civil servant in the regional government, shrugged and tried to push her card into it anyway.
"The Spanish government has taken many measures against us, we have to react," she said. "I'm taking out 300 euros."
The two biggest banks in wealthy Catalonia, CaixaBank and Sabadell, are among some 900 companies who have moved their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain since the banned referendum, worried that the instability could take a toll on their business.