Catalonia crisis: Spain takes over regional parliament, calls elections after independence declaration

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28.10.2017

Catalonia says yes, Madrid says no

Catalonians woke up on Saturday morning with Mariano Rajoy as their regional president. Madrid voted to fire the Catalan parliament after it illegally declared independence.

- Madrid has seized control of the Catalan assembly and called elections for December 21

- Public prosecutors have said they will file a complaint for rebellion against Puigdemont next week

- The Catalan assembly earlier voted to declare independence from Spain

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assumed control of Catalonia on Saturday after sacking the Catalan parliament and announcing elections in the region for December 21. 

Spain's Senate voted 214 to 47 the previous evening to invoke Article 155 and seize control of the region immediately after it had declared its independence. This marks the first time since the fall of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 that the central government has taken direct control of one of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions. 

"The President of the Government of the Nation takes on the role and the competences corresponding to the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, foreseen by the Autonomy Statute," the official bulletin of the Spanish state said on Saturday morning. 

'We never wanted this'

"We Spaniards are living through a sad day in which a lack of reason prevailed upon the law and demolished democracy in Catalonia," Rajoy told a news conference on Friday.

"We never wanted to come to this point," he said, adding that the goal is to "return Catalonia to normality and legality" following an unauthorized independence referendum on October 1. 

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The declaration

As the world watched, Catalonia's parliament voted 70 to 10 for the region to declare its independence from Spain. "Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people's mandate," Puigdemont said after the decision. Dozens of opposition lawmakers from the Socialist Party, Citizens Party and Popular Party had walked out of the parliament chamber to boycott the vote.

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The despair

Within an hour of the Catalan vote, the Spanish Senate in Madrid passed a bill to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The measure will allow the central government to suspend Catalonia's autonomy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would sack Catalonia’s government and set new regional elections for December 21.

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The dismissal

European leaders were quick to condemn the independence declaration. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Union "doesn't need any more cracks," while EU Council President Donald Tusk said Madrid "remains our only interlocutor." Leaders in Germany, France, Italy and the UK voiced their support for Madrid. The US also chimed in, saying "Catalonia is an integral part of Spain."

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The dispute

Barcelona and Madrid had been in a standoff since 93 percent of voters opted for Catalan independence in an October 1 referendum marred by police violence. Spain said the poll was illegal and stressed the low voter turnout of 43 percent. It subsequently threatened to suspend the region's autonomy if Catalan leaders did not stop their drive for independence.

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The defiance

Many had expected tensions to ease on October 26 when Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to call snap elections to bow to a key Spanish government demand. But Puigdemont refused, saying that he did not have enough "guarantees" from Madrid. Instead, he called on the Catalan parliament to decide on how to respond to Spain's threat to suspend the region's autonomy.

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The dream

Tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters had taken to the streets of Barcelona ahead of the independence declaration to demand the region's secession and the release of two leaders of pro-independence organizations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. Independence has divided Catalonia. Many who supported continued unity with Spain refused to vote in the October 1 referendum.

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The delight

The pro-independence crowds outside the Catalan parliament immediately rejoiced after hearing the independence declaration. Many people were draped in the "Estelada" flag associated with Catalan independence. Some reportedly called for the Spanish flag to be removed from the Catalan government palace as regional lawmakers arrived from the parliament. (Author: Alexander Pearson)

Catalan leaders no longer paid

Deposed leader Carles Puigdemont  and his 12-member cabinet will be struck off the payroll and face charges of usurping others' functions if they refuse to obey. But there was no immediate sign that top Catalan officials were willing to comply. 

Rajoy must also exert Madrid's control over the lower levels of the 200,000-strong regional administration, some of whom have pledged not to obey orders following calls from secessionist group - the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

The region's police chief Josep Lluis Trapero was also sacked from his role on Saturday, the official government gazette said. Trapero issued a statement saying he would comply. The regional police force urged its members to behave in a neutral manner and not takes sides in the dispute in an internal note seen by the Reuters news agency.

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.

Spanien Barcelona - Befürwörter der Unabhängigkeit vor Katalanischem Regionalparlament

Several thousand independence supporters cheered the secession vote

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.

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Read moreIn Catalonia, language and identity go hand in hand

Barcelona votes to go its own way

Late Friday afternoon, the 135-member Catalan parliament in Barcelona voted in favor of a declaration of independence, with 70 voting for the measure and 10 against.

The lower vote count was due to a walkout by dozens of opposition lawmakers - among them the opposition Socialists and Citizens - who left the Catalan parliament chamber in protest against the vote on independence after placing Spanish and Catalonia official flags in their empty seats. 

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Independence crisis divides Catalans

"Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people's mandate," Puigdemont told a crowd in Barcelona after the Madrid vote, calling for calm and dignity. Puigdemont emphasized the importance of maintaining "momentum."

Several hundred people protested against the independence bid in Barcelona on Friday night, waving Spanish flags as they demonstrated in the city.

Barcelona and Madrid narrowly avoided ending the deadlock 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

Read moreOpinion — Trouble brewing in every corner of Europe

Spain's allies reacted in solidarity with Rajoy's government on Friday. European Council 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.

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," French President Emmanuel Macron chimed in.

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.

Calling Catalonia "an integral part of Spain," the US State Department reaffirmed its support to "keep Spain strong and united."

Meanwhile, Scotland - which itself has considered independence - expressed understanding for Catalonia's position, but ultimately sided with the Spanish government as well.

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A Roman province

The Romans had several provinces with Hispania in their names on the Iberian Peninsula. Modern Spain also encompasses such wide cultural diversity that the Spanish themselves speak of Las Espanas (The Spains). The country in its present form was never united under a single ruler until after the 1702-14 War of the Spanish Succession.

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A nation of regions

Spanish nationalism is strong in many regions, with former kingdoms such as Aragon largely content to be recognized as part of the Spanish nation-state. Asturias has its own language, but takes pride in its role as the birthplace of the Reconquista, or the taking back of Iberia from the Moors. Spanish nationalism was evident in recent protests in Madrid in response to Catalonia's referendum.

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Bloodied fingers

Catalonia has long battled for independence. Its flag, the Senyera, is very similar to that of Aragon, to which it once belonged. The design is fabled to represent four bloodied fingers of Count Wilfred the Hairy being passed over a gold shield. Catalans were fairly happy with their situation until a court struck down the region's statute of autonomy in 2006 and support for independence grew.

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No great appetite

Valencianismo, or Valencian nationalism, sprang out of the Renaixenca, an early-19th-century rebirth of the Catalan language, of which Valencian is just one variant. However, nationalist sentiment is not widespread in the region, which is home to Spain's Tomatina tomato-throwing festival. The Valencian Nationalist Bloc usually gets about 4 percent of the vote for the autonomous parliament.

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Other Catalan territories

The Balearic Islands — Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera — all speak variants of Catalan. Though there is a greater nationalist feeling on the islands than in Valencia, it is still more subdued than in Catalonia. Meanwhile, La Franja, a strip of Catalan-speaking land in Aragon, was split by the independence referendum, though most residents do not advocate self-determination for themselves.

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The Basque Country

Because of terror attacks by the ETA militant group, Basque separatists used to make the headlines far more often than Catalonia's independence movement. Separatists consider the Basque Country in France and Spain and the region of Navarre to be one nation. About a third of people want full independence, but most want more autonomy. A referendum proposed in 2008 was ruled illegal.

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The Galician cause

Although it was the birthplace of the centralist dictator Francisco Franco, Galicia has the strongest tradition of separatism after Catalonia and the Basque Country. Even Spain's mainstream national parties display a streak of Galicianism in the region. Perhaps as a result, starkly nationalist parties receive a lower share of the regional vote.

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From caliphate to community

The Arabic name al-Andalus originally refers to the areas of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Moorish rule for 760 years. As Christians reconquered territories, the area known as Andalusia shrank southwards. Most Andalusians voted for autonomy after Franco died in 1975, but there is little appetite for full independence.

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