In reaction to a vote for independence by Catalonian lawmakers, Spain’s government has announced it will dissolve the regional parliament. European leaders have sided against Barcelona in its bid for secession.
- Madrid has dissolved the Catalan assembly and has called elections for December 21, sacking the regional president, Carles Puigdemont
- Public prosecutors have said they will file a complaint for rebellion against Puigdemont next week
- The Catalan assembly earlier voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from Spain
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Madrid sacked the Catalan parliament on Friday evening and announced elections in the region for December 21.
“The regional leader had the opportunity to do this and did not,” Rajoy told a press conference in Madrid, adding that the head of the Catalan police was sacked and the regional cabinet suspended.
“We will return law to the governance of Catalonia after arbitrary and lawless decisions in recent weeks,” he added. “For them it was the worse it is, the better.”
The Spanish Senate voted on Friday afternoon to invoke Article 155. The move was approved in a 214-47 vote, with two abstentions.
The measure paved the way for Madrid to dissolve Catalonia’s parliament, depose Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and take control of its police force.
“They have destroyed a tradition of partnership and openness. and it is anguishing. This is how most non-independence supporters in Catalonia feel.”
This marks the first time since the fall of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 that the central government would directly control the affairs of one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions. How Madrid uses the extraordinary powers it given itself will be watched by Spain’s other autonomous regions, especially the Basques and Galicians.
Rajoy has promised that the move is simply to restore order after Catalonia held an unauthorized independence referendum on October 1.
Puigdemont’s fate on the line
A spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office told the French news agency AFP that “public prosecutors will file a complaint for rebellion against Carles Puigdemont next week,” adding similar lawsuits could be filed against other members of the Catalan government and parliament.
Under Spanish law, the crime of “rebellion” is punishable by up to 30 years in jail.
Madrid could also seize control of Catalonia’s civil service, police and finances, which would remain in place until a new parliament is elected. Senators voted not to interfere with Catalonia’s public radio and television.
The main secessionist group – the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) – later called on civil servants not to follow orders from the central government.
Pro-independence Catalonians had promised to launch a campaign of civil disobedience if the government implements Article 155.
Spanish flags were taken down in several towns of Catalonia.
Barcelona votes to go its own way
Late Friday afternoon, the Catalan parliament in Barcelona voted 70 in favor and 10 against on a declaration of independence.
“Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people’s mandate,” Puigdemont told a massed crowd in Barcelona after the Madrid vote, calling for calm and dignity.
Puigdemont emphasized the importance of maintaining “momentum.”
Dozens of opposition lawmakers – among them the opposition Socialists and Citizens – walked out of the Catalan parliament chamber in protest against the vote on independence.
Lawmakers from the Popular party (PP) – the ruling party at the national level, but a minority in Catalonia – had also walked out after placing Spanish and Catalonia official flags in their empty seats.
Following the vote Catalan regional VP Oriol Junqueras tweeted that Catalonia had gained its freedom by voting to cede from Spain.
DW reporter Charlotte Chelsom-Pill tweeted from Barcelona:
Barcelona and Madrid narrowly avoided ending the deadlock peacefully on Thursday, with Puigdemont declining to call snap elections that would bring in a new government, and Rajoy refusing to accept a deal from the Catalan president that would have secured his region’s autonomy.
EU and US back Madrid
A number of Spain’s allies reacted in solidarity with Rajoy’s government on Friday.
Calling Catalonia “an integral part of Spain,” the US State Department reaffirmed its support to “keep Spain strong and united.”
Meanwhile in Europe, EU leaders denounced the move.
President Donald Tusk made clear that Madrid “remains our only interlocutor.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, warned of the danger of “more cracks” opening up in the 28-member bloc following Catalonia’s vote. The EU “doesn’t need any more cracks, more splits.”
“No one in the European Union will recognize this declaration,” EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani said of the vote.
A number of Western European leaders, including Germany, France, Italy and the UK, also responded in the hours that followed with full support for Madrid.
Calling for dialogue between the two sides, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, made clear that Berlin did not recognize “such an independence declaration.”
“I have one partner in Spain, that’s Prime Minister Rajoy,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.
Britain “does not and will not” recognize the unilateral declaration of independence made by the Catalan regional parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said in a statement.
“It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts. We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Scotland – which itself has considered independence – expressed understanding for Catalonia’s position, but ultimately sided with the Spanish government as well.
“Today’s Declaration of Independence came about only after repeated calls for dialogue were refused,” Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said in a statement.
“The imposition of direct rule cannot be the solution and should be of concern to democrats everywhere. The EU has a political and moral responsibility to support dialogue to identify how the situation can be resolved peacefully and democratically.”
jbh/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)