Rift appears in Catalan govt as Madrid power takeover looms

Barcelona (AFP) –


Several members of Catalonia's separatist government told the region's leader they want elections to avoid a power takeover by Madrid, a source close to him said Wednesday, as a rift appeared in the regional executive.

Many believe calling early elections would be an alternative to the region declaring independence, and thus a solution out of Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

The crisis was sparked by a divisive independence referendum that went ahead on October 1 despite a court ban.

Several regional government members expressed their support for elections in a meeting on Tuesday with regional president Carles Puigdemont, said the source, who refused to be named.

Spain has vowed to start taking over Catalonia's political power and finances in the coming days if it does not stop its independence drive.

Puigdemont's ruling coalition is hugely disparate, with the far-left CUP and left-wing ERC parties that prop up his conservative PDeCAT grouping gunning for him to declare independence.

According to Catalan daily La Vanguardia, the meeting yielded "intense debate" and went on well into the night, with no decision reached.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that constitutional measures to take over Catalonia's powers were "the only possible response" to Puigdemont's independence push.

"I am fulfilling my obligation by implementing (constitutional article) 155, faced with contempt for our laws, the constitution, Catalonia's status and contempt for millions of Catalan citizens who see that their government has liquidated the law," he told parliament.

But implementing article 155 could spark unrest in the northeastern region which, though divided on independence, is fiercely protective of its language and autonomy.

On Wednesday, independence supporters were preparing to take to the streets again. Teachers were planning a rally in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and grassroots organisations dubbed "committees to defend the referendum" were also due to protest.