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The Spanish government has announced it will vote to reimpose direct rule over Catalonia on Saturday, October 21.
In a statement, the government said that because Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont had missed a new deadline to clarify his positions, the Spanish cabinet will convene Saturday to trigger article 155 of the Spanish constitution – to reimpose direct rule from Madrid.
The constitutional law hasn’t been used since democracy was restored at the end of Franco’s dictatorship four decades ago, according to The Associated Press. Given that Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy enjoys broad support, the vote is expected to go in his favor.
Rajoy has previously been criticised for appearing to take a heavy-handed approach to Catalonia’s bid to vote on independence from Spain.
Madrid sent 5,000 national police and civil guards to Catalonia in preparation for the independence referendum on October 1. According to Spanish outlet El Pais, these security forces have remained in place and been reinforced by hundreds of troops from Spain’s military.
Time is running out for the Generalitat (Catalonia’s government) to formally back away from independence after the region’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, failed to meet Madrid’s 10 a.m. deadline.
In a four-page reply sent Monday morning to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont called on Madrid to “end the repression against the people and government of Catalonia” and to agree to hold talks with the Generalitat to find a negotiated solution to the crisis. Puigdemont did not, however, clarify his government’s position regarding independence, as required by Madrid last week.
— Govern. Generalitat (@govern) October 16, 2017
According to a letter sent to the Generalitat by Rajoy on October 11, Puigdemont had until 10 a.m. on October 19 to bring his government back into the Spanish fold by unequivocally stating that Catalonia is not seeking independence from Spain.
Madrid is likely to adopt Article 155 of the Spanish constitution and impose direct rule over Catalonia, effectively rescinding the region’s autonomous status.
On October 1, Catalonians overwhelmingly voted to leave Spain in a referendum dubbed illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, and marred by violent repression from Spanish police and Civil Guard. Some 900 people were injured, some seriously, according to Catalonia’s Health Department.
However, voter turnout was only 42 percent. Many pro-unionist Catalans did not vote in a bid to boycott the referendum.
In today’s letter, Puigdemont says his government’s “priority is always to seek solutions by dialogue.” But in a press conference this morning, Spanish Vice-President Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría hit back at Puigdemont and urged him to “be clear” and rectify his government’s decision “to avoid the next steps from being taken”.
— 24h (@24h_tve) October 16, 2017
Spanish military officers say troops were sent to Catalonia to assist the Civil Guard and national police in guaranteeing public safety by taking over control of key strategic infrastructure – including airports, ports, nuclear power plants, and fuel depots – in the event that the Generalitat pressed ahead with independence.
According to an expert quoted by El Pais, military officials do not expect Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to fight back. However, the expert does not discard the possibility of armed insurrection by radical pro-independence factions.
October 11: Spanish prime minister gives Catalan leader a deadline to clarify position on independence
In a move that will prolong the suspense surrounding Spain’s constitutional crisis, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy moved the spotlight back onto the Catalan government by asking the Generalitat to clarify whether it has formally declared independence by October 16.
Appearing before a packed regional parliament, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont announced on October 10 that he was given a mandate to declare independence, to thunderous applause from one side of the room.
After the cheering subsided, Puigdemont immediately asked the Catalan parliament to suspend the declaration in order to “start a dialogue to reach a negotiated solution” with Madrid.
Madrid rejected Catalonia’s “symbolic” declaration of independence and dismissed the Generalitat’s calls for international mediation.
On October 11, Rajoy spoke at a brief press conference from his official residence after an emergency cabinet meeting. “We have agreed to request formally from the Generalitat [Catalan government] whether it has declared independence,” he said.
— EL PAÍS (@el_pais) October 11, 2017
Later that day, the Spanish government set two dates for Puigdemont to clarify the Generalitat’s position on independence. Initially, the Catalan leader will have until 10 a.m. on October 16 to confirm (link in Spanish) whether his government has actually decided to break away from Spain.
Then, if the Generalitat confirms that it intends to proceed with independence (or fails to give notice), it will have another three days to return to the fold.
If Puigdemont continues to maintain – through action or inaction – that Catalonia has declared independence by 10 a.m. on October 19, Madrid has threatened to adopt Article 155 to “restore the violated constitutional order“.
Article 155 (link in Spanish) enables Spain’s central government to give orders to the country’s autonomous regions if they are not complying with their constitutional obligations, effectively dissolving their autonomous status.
October 10: Catalan leader stops (just) short of declaring independence
In a pivotal speech for the future of Spain, and perhaps Europe, Carles Puigdemont, the regional president of Catalonia, claimed on October 10 that he had been given a mandate to declare independence, but said he would hold back to seek a negotiated solution with Madrid.
Puigdemont trod carefully between outright confrontation with the Spanish government and meeting the demands for independence from his supporters, who voted to secede in a referendum 10 days ago. Spain’s Constitutional Court had ruled in early September that the vote was unlawful.
He told the Catalan parliament the region had won the right to independence with the referendum. But he asked the parliament to postpone a unilateral declaration of independence for several weeks in order to “start a dialogue to reach a negotiated solution” with Madrid.
— EL PAÍS Catalunya (@elpaiscatalunya) October 10, 2017
“With the results of October 1, Catalonia has won the right to be an independent state,” said Puigdemont to a packed Catalan parliament. “If everyone acts with responsibility, the conflict can be resolved in a calm and appropriate manner.”
Speaking to the Associated Press on October 10th, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz characterised Puigdemont as someone without a plan. “The speech the president… gave today is that of a person who does not know where he is, where he’s going, nor who he wants to go there with.”
Inés Arrimadas, leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens’ Party) and the Catalan parliament’s opposition leader, accused the regional president of shattering relations between Catalans with an over-aggressive push for independence from Madrid. “You have smashed the autonomy of Catalonia with your irresponsibility,” said Arrimadas.
Cristina Cifuentes, president of the Madrid autonomous region and a member of Spain’s governing Partido Popular, tweeted from her personal account: “Puigdemont and his accomplices are outside the law. Catalonia is and will remain a part of Spain.”
— Cristina Cifuentes (@ccifuentes) October 10, 2017
On October 5, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended Monday’s session of the Catalan parliament in an apparent attempt to stop the region’s push for independence. Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont had previously indicated he would declare independence at the session.
The court’s ruling upheld a challenge by Catalonia’s Socialist Party, which opposes secession from Spain.
On October 2, the Catalan authorities announced that 90 percent of voters in Sunday’s referendum had backed independence, but the final results have still to be published.
Around 42 percent of the 5.3 million registered voters turned out to vote. A spokesman said more than 750,000 votes could not be counted owing to Spanish security forces closing polling stations and confiscating ballot boxes. Almost 900 people were hurt.
More than 40 Catalan trade unions and associations have called for a region-wide strike tomorrow, due to “the grave violation of rights and freedoms”.
According to The Independent, Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said police violence during the vote was “not out of the ordinary,” and claimed there were “fake photos” of police brutality on social media.
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote.
According to Politico, the chief spokesman for the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, said the independence referendum was “not legal”, repeating the European Union’s previously declared position that if Catalonia did become independent it would not be a member of the Union.
Why do some Catalans want independence?
Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, accounting for 16% of Spain’s population but about 20% of the country’s economy. Many independence supporters feel the region puts far more into Spain than it gets back.
Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia enjoyed a degree of autonomy, but those powers were revoked during General Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975. When Franco died, Catalan nationalism revived and the region was granted autonomy again under the 1978 constitution.
A 2006 statute granted further powers, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed many of them in 2010.