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Spain seeks to sack Catalan govt, call fresh regional elections

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy addresses a press conference at the end of an European leaders' summit in Brussels on October 20, 2017. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday said he would curb the powers of the parliament of Catalonia, sack its government and call an election within six months in a bid to thwart a drive by the autonomous region to breakaway from Spain.


Rajoy said after meeting with his Cabinet on Saturday that the central government needs to take the unprecedented step of invoking Article 155 of the constitution to assume control of Catalonia to "restore order" in the face of a secession effort backed by the regional government.

The Spanish leader also proposed that the powers of Catalan officials be taken over by central government ministers.

Rajoy used the speech to set out his plans to remove specific powers away from the wealthy northeast region, which currently enjoys wide autonomy including control over its own policing, education and healthcare.

"A referendum which everybody knew the Spanish government could not accept" - Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy

An 'unacceptable secession attempt'

The measures -- which take the country into uncharted legal waters -- come after Spain's King Felipe VI on Friday blasted what he said was an "unacceptable secession attempt" and said the crisis sparked by the region's banned October 1 independence referendum must be resolved "through legitimate democratic institutions".

"We do not want to give up that which we have built together," he pleaded.

Madrid enjoys constitutional powers to wrest back control of rebellious regions in one of the Western world's most decentralised nations, but until today it had never used them.

Autonomy is a hugely sensitive issue in semi-autonomous Catalonia, which saw its powers taken away under Spain's military dictatorship. Home to 7.5 million people, the region fiercely defends its own language and culture.

"It doesn't look as if Carles Puigdemont wants to climb down" - FRANCE 24 Spain correspondent Sarah Morris.

'Critical point'

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said that any steps by Madrid to impose direct rule could push regional lawmakers to declare unilateral independence.

As tensions continue to run high, independence supporters are set to rally in Barcelona Saturday evening calling for the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, the leaders of two powerful grassroots separatist groups who have been in jail since Monday pending investigation into sedition charges.

Puigdemont says he has a mandate to declare independence after the referendum, which his administration says resulted in a 90 percent Yes vote.

But turnout was given as only 43 percent as many Catalans who back unity stayed away from the banned vote.

"The question is: who actually organises elections in Catalonia?" - FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor Armen Georgian

Catalonia evenly split

Accounting for about a fifth of Spain's economic output, Catalonia is evenly split over whether to break away from Spain, according to polls.

Supporters say the wealthy region does too much to prop up the rest of the national economy and would thrive if it went its own way, but opponents say Catalonia is stronger as part of Spain and that a split would spell economic and political disaster.

Nearly 1,200 companies that have shifted their registered domiciles to other parts of Spain since the referendum, hoping to minimise instability.

Madrid this week cut its national growth forecast for next year from 2.6 percent to 2.3 percent, saying the standoff was creating uncertainty.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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