The Spanish government on Friday imposed direct rule over Catalonia, sparking off fears that Madrid and Barcelona are heading towards a major standoff. The move came hours after the Catalonia’s regional government unilaterally declared independence from Spain.
The Spanish Senate swiftly responded to the Catalan independence declaration by voting to invoke Article 155 of the country's Constitution. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament, and fired the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont along with members of his regional government. Josep Lluís Trapero was also relieved of his duty as chief of the Catalan police force.
Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by 70 votes to 10. Thousands of pro-independence celebrated in the streets around Catalonia, waving regional flags and banners. According to reports around 17,000 people were gathered outside the government palace in Barcelona. Madrid also witnessed huge protests by nationalists supporting the Spanish government’s move to impose direct rule in Catalonia.
On Saturday, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister was temporarily chosen to assume the position of President of Catalonia.
Meanwhile, Spain’s prosecutor's office has said that it would file rebellion charges against Puigdemont. Under Spanish law, the crime of rebellion can be punished with up to 30 years in prison.
Earlier, the referendum of October 1 had witnessed two million Catalans voting in favour of the region breaking away from Spain and forming an independent republic. The polling process witnessed brutal repression by the Spanish police injuring more than 800 Catalans. Puigdemont had warned that his government had been left with no choice but to proceed unilaterally as repeated attempts to discuss the matter with the Madrid government have been ignored.
Spain's government have denied any move to arrest the Catalan leaders, but it is unclear how it will proceed if the current regional administration staff refuse to leave their offices. Mossos d'Esquadra, a group of Catalonia's police personnel favouring independence, has refused to follow instructions from the central government.
Spain’s ruling Popular Party and powerful sections of the ruling establishment in Europe have taken recourse to arguments based on the principle of sovereignty and the inviolability of the Spanish constitution to defend the Spanish government's crackdown on the referendum. Political observers have pointed out the double standards involved in the European elite invoking these principles.
"I don't remember any of these people referring to the sacredness of constitutions and sovereignty of existing states when it came to the breakup of Yugoslavia,” said Kevin Ovenden, British author and political activist.
European leaders have largely rallied behind the Spanish government, maintaining that the unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia is ‘illegal’.
Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said in a statement posted on Twitter that "nobody in the European Union will recognise" the Catalan vote.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May's office said Britain "does not and will not" recognise the Catalan regional parliament's declaration of independence, which "is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts".
The United States has also backed Madrid's efforts to keep the country united. "Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
"The (German) federal government does not recognise such an independence declaration," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The independence move by Catalonia has found some supporters, especially in the Scottish government led by the pro-independence Scottish National Party. The SNP has criticised Spain for refusing dialogue and said the imposition of direct rule by Madrid "cannot be the solution".
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