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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Spain’s direct rule takes hold in Catalonia

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BARCELONA/MADRID: Spain’s direct rule over Catalonia took hold smoothly on Monday as employees ignored calls for civil disobedience to turn up for work, and secessionist parties agreed to stand in new elections, implying acceptance that the regional government was dissolved.


Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont travelled to Belgium with several other members of his sacked administration, a senior member of Spain’s ruling People’s Party said. Spain’s state prosecutor, Attorney-General Jose Manuel Maza, called for charges of rebellion and sedition, as well as fraud and misuse of funds, to be brought against Catalan leaders.


Catalonia, a prosperous region with its own language and culture, triggered Spain’s biggest crisis for decades by holding an independence referendum on October 1, which Spanish courts called illegal.


Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assumed direct control of the region on Friday, sacked its secessionist government and called a snap election for December 21.


Monday’s calm on the streets of Barcelona resolved a weekend of uncertainty during which it was not clear how the region would respond to central control.


Some of the most prominent ousted Catalan leaders, including Puigdemont and Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, had said they would not accept their dismissal. But their respective parties, PdeCat and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, said on Monday they would take part in the election, a tacit acceptance that parliament had been dissolved.


La Sexta television said Puigdemont could seek asylum in Belgium together with five other sacked members of his administration.


The regional legislature cancelled a meeting for Tuesday, another signal lawmakers accepted they had been dismissed.


A call for widespread civil disobedience from the main civic groups behind the secessionist campaign failed to attract many followers. Most public sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and the police started worked as normal on Monday and there was no sign of widespread absenteeism.


A trade union, Intersindical-CSC, which had called for a general strike in Catalonia, said on Monday it had cancelled it.


Sacked Catalan leaders have remained ambiguous but they stopped short of directly defying Spain’s authority. There were no signs of any spontaneous demonstration taking place.


Puigdemont posted a picture on Instagram taken in the regional government headquarters, but was not seen entering, suggesting the photo may have been taken by someone else.


Regional transport chief Josep Rull posted on Twitter a picture of him working in his office but he was later seen leaving the building. Spain’s transport minister had said in a radio interview Rull would be allowed to collect his personal belongings but not work there.


When he left, Rull said he would now attend a PdeCat party meeting: “Let’s go on with the scheduled agenda,” he said. — Reuters


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