Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Ousted Catalan president vows to fight Spain's takeover

Published:Saturday | October 28, 2017 | 10:47 AM
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont speaks during a statement at the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday, October - AP Photo

BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Catalonia's ousted separatist president on Saturday called on Catalans to peacefully oppose Spain's imposition of direct rule in the region, in a veiled refusal to accept his Cabinet's dismissal as ordered by central authorities.

Spain took formal direct control of Catalonia on Saturday, dismissing the region's defiant separatist government, including Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, a day after lawmakers passed a declaration of independence for the prosperous northeastern region.

The move came after one of the most tumultuous days in the country's recent history, as the national parliament in Madrid approved unprecedented constitutional measures to halt the secessionist drive by the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved the regional parliament and called a new regional election to be held on December 21.

In a pre-recorded televised statement, Puigdemont said only the regional parliament can elect or dismiss the Catalan government, vowing to "continue working to build a free country."

"The best way we have to defend the achievements to date is the democratic opposition to the application of Article 155," Puigdemont said in reference to the constitutional clause that gave Madrid direct control of affairs in Catalonia.

Despite his defiant tone and the use of the official Catalan government emblem, the Catalan and European Union flags but no sign of the Spanish one, some political commentators saw in his mention of "democratic opposition" as laying the groundwork for political campaigning for the regional election in less than two months.

"Our will is to continue working to fulfill the democratic mandates and at the same time seek the maximum stability and tranquility," Puigdemont said. Separatists argue that a controversial victory in a banned October 1 referendum legitimises them to split from Spain.

Andrew Dowling, a specialist in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales, said the statement was "vague and imprecise, certainly not like the president of a new country."

"They have led two million Catalans to believe in independence, so it's a big problem to tell them now that it's actually difficult to build a state when Spain has the upper hand of the law on its side," Dowling said.

They are trapped by their own rhetoric."

After Spain's central authorities made the takeover official early Saturday, Puigdemont and the 12 members that until Saturday made up the Catalan Cabinet are no longer paid.

Spain's government has said they could be charged with usurping others' functions if they refuse to obey, which could throw the region into further turmoil by prolonging a monthlong standoff.

In comments that were met late Friday with jeers and whistles of disapproval by secession supporters in Barcelona, the main city in Catalonia, Rajoy said that the declaration of independence "not only goes against the law but is a criminal act."

Spanish prosecutors say that top Catalan officials could face rebellion charges as soon as Monday.