Catalan separatists weigh options after Spain raises the stakes

BARCELONA: Catalonia’s separatists were weighing their options on Sunday after Spain took drastic steps to stop the region from breaking away by dissolving its separatist government and forcing new elections.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional executive — who sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1 — will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures announced on
Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
“Yesterday there was a fully-fledged coup against Catalan institutions,” said Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull.
“What happens now, with everyone in agreement and unity, is that we will announce what we will do and how,” he told Catalunya Radio.
Rajoy has taken Spain into uncharted legal waters by moving to wrest back powers from the semi-autonomous region, which could see Madrid take control of the Catalan police force and replace its public media chiefs.
The move sparked outrage among separatists, with nearly half a million taking to the streets of regional capital Barcelona on Saturday and Puigdemont declaring Rajoy guilty of “the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people” since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Among other repressive measures, Franco — who ruled from 1939 until 1975 — took Catalonia’s powers away and banned official use of the Catalan language.
Though Catalans are deeply split on whether to break away from Spain, autonomy remains a sensitive issue in the northeastern region of 7.5 million people, which fiercely defends its language and culture and has previously enjoyed control over its policing, education and healthcare.
Rajoy said he had no choice but to force Puigdemont out by triggering never-before-used constitutional powers, as the Catalan leader refuses to drop his threat to declare a breakaway state.
Spain’s Senate is set to approve the measures by the end of next week. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) holds a majority in the upper house, while other major parties also back his efforts to prevent a break-up of the nation.
In a crisis that has sent jitters through one of Spain’s most important regional economies and rattled stock markets, Rajoy has ordered fresh elections to be called within six months of the Senate hearing, which would see a vote by mid-June at the latest. — AFP