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Rajoy says will sack Catalan government, call regional elections

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy leaves after a press conference at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid

The Spanish government decided on Saturday to sack the secessionist leadership of Catalonia and force the region into a new election, saying it had to take these unprecedented steps to prevent Catalan independence.

The plan, which still requires the approval of the upper house Senate, seeks to resolve Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades but risks an angry reaction from independence supporters, who plan street protests later in the day.

In outlining the cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the Catalan economy, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, was already in worrying shape as a result of the regional government’s push for independence.

“We will ask the Senate, with the aim of protecting the general interest of the nation, to authorise the government… to sack the Catalan president and his government,” Rajoy told a news conference.

It is the first time since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s that the central government has invoked the constitutional right to take control of a region and rule it directly from Madrid.

Direct rule will include full control of the region’s police, finances and public media. It will also curb the powers of the regional parliament.

Rajoy said he did not intend to use those special powers for more than six months and he would call a regional election as soon as the situation was back to normal.

“Our objective is to restore the law and a normal cohabitation among citizens, which has deteriorated a lot, continue with the economic recovery, which is under threat today in Catalonia, and celebrate elections in a situation of normality,” Rajoy said.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s upper house, the Senate, where a vote is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who was meeting with his government, will deliver an address at 9 pm (1900 GMT), his office said. He is due to join the protests in Barcelona.

Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Oct. 10, but on Thursday he threatened to press ahead with a more formal one unless the government agreed to a dialogue.

The Catalan parliament is expected to decide on Monday whether it will hold a plenary session next week to proclaim formally the republic of Catalonia.

Catalan media have said Puigdemont could decide to dissolve the regional parliament himself right after independence is proclaimed and call elections before the Spanish senate makes direct rule effective.

Under Catalan laws, those elections would take place within two months.

UNSUSTAINABLE

The independence push has brought on Spain’s worst political crisis since a failed military coup in 1981 several years after the end of the Franco dictatorship. It has met with strong opposition across the rest of Spain, divided Catalonia itself, and raised the prospect of prolonged street protests

It has also led Madrid to cut economic growth forecasts for the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy and prompted hundreds of firms to move their headquarters from Catalonia. Rajoy on Saturday urged firms to stay in the region.

Madrid has insisted that Puigdemont has broken the law several times in pushing for independence, including with a referendum on Oct. 1 that was declared illegal.

“The rulers of Catalonia have respected neither the law on which is based our democracy nor the general interest,” the government said in a memorandum obtained by Reuters. “This situation is unsustainable.”

The main opposition Socialists said on Friday they would back special measures and had agreed on the holding of regional elections in January.

Rajoy also received the backing of the head of state, King Felipe, on Friday, who said at a public ceremony that “Catalonia is and will remain an essential part” of Spain.

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