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Spain to dismiss Catalonia's government, call elections

© AFP | Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gives a press conference after a crisis cabinet meeting that agreed to move to dismiss Catalonia's separatist government.

MADRID (AFP) - 

Spain said Saturday it will move to dismiss Catalonia's separatist government and call fresh elections in the region in a bid to stop its leaders from declaring independence.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his government had no choice after the administration of Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont acted in a way that was "unilateral, contrary to the law and seeking confrontation" in holding a banned independence referendum in the northeastern region.

A spokesman for Puigdemont's government said he would respond at 9.00 pm (1900 GMT).

Taking Spain into uncharted legal waters by using Article 155 of the constitution, which allows Madrid to wrest back control of rebellious regions, Rajoy said he was asking the Senate to give him permission to dissolve the Catalan parliament and "call elections within a maximum of six months".

He is also requesting that all of Puigdemont's government be stripped of their functions, which "in principle will be carried out by (national) ministers for the duration of this exceptional situation."

The national Senate will now have to agree to these unprecedented steps -- a process that will take about a week.

Rajoy's conservative Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate, and the measures also enjoy the support of the main opposition Socialists and centrist Ciudadanos party.

If the Senate greenlights the proposals, the Catalan parliament will continue to operate as normal until it is dissolved, but it will be unable to elect a new government chief to replace Puigdemont or vote on any laws that go against Spain's constitution and its statute as a semi-autonomous region.

Catalonia sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades with the chaotic referendum on October 1, which Puigdemont said resulted in a 90 percent vote in favour of breaking away from Spain.

But turnout was given as 43 percent as many anti-independence Catalans stayed away from the vote, which had been ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, while others were hindered from voting by a police crackdown.

© 2017 AFP