Spain: PM Mariano Rajoy threatens Catalonia's autonomy

The head of Spain's government has warned Catalan leaders of the price of moving forward with a declaration of independence. A controversial Catalan independence referendum has plunged Spain into a political crisis.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday he would not rule out suspending Catalonia's autonomous status in the event it claimed independence, marking the premier's first remarks since last week's controversial referendum.

"Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to implement extreme solutions but for that not to happen things would have to be changed," the Spanish premier told the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais.

Read more: Spain's Article 155: The constitution's 'nuclear option'

"I must do things at the proper time … I would like the threat of an independence declaration to be withdrawn as quickly as possible."

Spain has plunged into a political crisis since Catalan leaders went forward with an independence referendum on October 1 despite the country's constitutional court outlawing the vote.

Spanien Premier Mariano Rajoy in Barcelona

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's premier, has urged Catalan leaders to drop their ambitions for independence or face the consequences

'Let's talk'

On Saturday, thousands of pro- and anti-independence supporters took to the streets across country to demand dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.

"This is producing a social rupture in Catalonia, and this has to be resolved through dialogue, never via unilateralism," said 61-year-old Catalan economist Jose Manuel Garcia, who joined demonstrations in the region under the banner "Let's talk."

Read more: Beyond Catalonia: Separatist movements in Western Europe

In Madrid, protesters wore stickers that read: "Catalonia, we love you." However, some demonstrators carried signs urging Rajoy to trigger Article 155 of the constitution, the so-called nuclear option which could be used to revoke the region's autonomy.

Following the vote, Spanish King Felipe VI accused Catalan leaders of "disloyalty," saying the central government needed to ensure "constitutional order."

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Uncertain future

The Catalan government on Friday said approximately 90 percent of those who voted opted for independence, although turnout was only 43 percent. Local media reported many of those against independence boycotted the vote.

Read more: Catalonia to South Sudan: A world of separatist movements

The vote was marred by allegations of police brutality. In the El Pais interview, Rajoy said "some mistakes were made," but blamed Catalan authorities for putting "national sovereignty" in danger.

The premier noted that 4,000 additional police were deployed in Catalonia in the run-up to the referendum, adding they would stay until the crisis was over.

History

Rich ancient heritage

Catalonia has been settled by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Greeks, who were mainly in the coastal areas of Rosas and Empuries (above). Then came the Romans, who built more settlements and infrastructure. Catalonia remained a part of the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Visigoths in the fifth century.

History

Counties and independence

Catalonia was conquered by Arabs in 711 AD. The Frankish king Charlemagne stopped their advance at Tours on the Loire River and, by 759, the north of Catalonia was once again Christian. In 1137, the counties that made up Catalonia entered an alliance with the Crown of Aragon.

History

Autonomy and the war of succession

In the 13th century, the institutions of Catalan self-administration were created under the banner of the Generalitat de Catalunya. After the unification of the Crown of Aragon with that of Castile in 1476, Aragon was largely able to keep its autonomic institutions. However, the Catalan revolt — from 1640 to 1659 — saw parts of Catalonia ceded to present-day France.

History

Remembrance of defeat

After the conquest of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, by the Bourbon King Phillip V, Catalan instuitutions were dissolved and self-administration came to an end. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the end of their right to autonomy.

History

Federal ideas in wider republic

After the abdication of King Amadeo I of Spain, the first Spanish Republic was declared in February 1873. It lasted barely a year. The supporters of the Republic were split – one group supporting the idea of a centralized republic, the others wanting a federal system. Pictured here is Francisco Pi i Maragall, a supporter of federalism and one of five presidents of the short-lived republic.

History

Failed attempt

Catalonia sought to establish a new state within the Spanish republic, but this only served to exacerbate the differences between republicans, ultimately dividing and weakening them. In 1874, the monarchy and the House of Bourbon (led by King Alfonso XII, pictured here) took the helm.

History

Catalan Republic

Between 1923 — with the support of the monarchy, the army and the church — General Primo de Rivera declared a dictatorship. Catalonia became a center of opposition and resistance. After the end of the dictatorship, the politician Francesc Macia (pictured here) successfully pressed for important rights of autonomy for Catalonia.

History

The end of freedom

In the Second Spanish Republic, Catalan lawmakers worked on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. This was approved by the Spanish parliament in 1932. Francesc Macia was elected president of the Generalitat of Catalonia by the Catalan parliament. However, the victory of Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) put an end to all that.

History

Loss of liberties

The Franco regime ruled with an iron rod. Political parties were banned and the Catalan language and culture were surpressed.

History

New autonomy by statute

After the first parliamentary elections that followed the end of the Franco dictatorship, the Generalitat of Catalonia was provisionally restored. Under the democratic Spanish constitution of 1978, Catalonia was given a new Statute of Autonomy just a year later.

History

New and different statute

The new Statute of Autonomy recognized the autonomy of Catalonia and the importance of the Catalan language. In comparison to the 1932 statute, it was enhanced in the fields of culture and education but curtailed when it came to the realm of justice. Pictured here is Jordi Pujol, the long-time head of the government of Catalonia after the dictatorship.

History

Stronger self-awareness

A desire for independence has grown stronger in recent years. In 2006, Catalonia was given a new statute that broadened the Catalan government's powers. However, it lost these after a complaint by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court of Spain.

History

First referendum

A referendum on independence was already envisaged for November 9, 2014. The first question was "Do you want Catalonia to become a state?" In the case of an affirmative answer, the second question was posed: "Do you want this state to be independent?" However, the Constitutional Court suspended the vote.

History

Clash of the titans

Since January 2016, Carles Puigdemont has been president of the Catalan government. He proceeded with the separatist course of his predecessor Artur Mas and called the new referendum for October 1, 2017. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed this as unconstitutional.

ls/jm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)