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Catalonia warns of civil defiance as Madrid readies direct rule

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont (C) and other Catalan regional government members attend a demonstration organised by Catalan pro-independence movements ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Omnium Cutural, following the imprisonment of their two leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, in Barcelona

Catalonia said on Monday it was confident all officials including police would defy attempts by Madrid to enforce direct rule on the region, in an escalating dispute that has raised fears of unrest among Spain’s European allies.

The Spanish government has invoked special constitutional powers to fire the regional government and force a new election to counter an independence drive that has rattled the economy. A vote in the Senate to implement direct rule is due on Friday.

But the leaders of the secessionist campaign said a disputed referendum on Oct 1 gave them the mandate to claim independence from the rest of Spain.

“It’s not that we will refuse (orders). It is not a personal decision. It is a seven million-person decision,” Catalonia‘s foreign affairs chief Raul Romeva told BBC radio.

Romeva was asked whether he believed all institutions, including the police, would follow orders from Catalan institutions rather than from the Spanish government.

“And from that perspective, I have no doubt that all civil servants in Catalonia will keep following the instructions provided by the elected and legitimate institutions that we have right now in place (in Catalonia),” he said.

Catalan authorities said about 90 per cent of those who took part in the referendum on Oct 1 voted for independence. But only 43 per cent of the electorate and 1 in 3 Catalans participated, with most opponents of secession staying at home.

The Catalan crisis has raised fears among European countries that it could spill over to the rest of the continent.

From Scotland to Flanders and Lombardy, the 2007-09 financial crisis, unemployment and migration have allowed anti-EU and populist parties to feed off discontent with political elites and reopen regional divisions.

Two wealthy regions of northern Italy voted overwhelmingly on Sunday for greater autonomy.

At a European summit last week, leaders sought to minimise Spain’s crisis with Catalonia and described the secession bid as a domestic issue.

“NO DIVINE AUTHORITY”

Civil disobedience was also backed by far-left party CUP, a key support for Catalonia‘s pro-independence minority government in the regional parliament, which called Madrid’s actions an aggression against all Catalans.

“An aggression which will be met with massive civil disobedience,” the CUP said in a statement.

Several hundred Catalan municipalities said they were against direct rule from Madrid and asked the Catalan parliament to vote on a motion rejecting it.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has called the Catalan parliament to meet this week to agree on a response to Madrid, something many observers said could pave the way for a formal declaration of independence.

The assembly will meet on Thursday to agree a response to direct rule.

Several influential Catalan newspapers called on Puidgemont on Sunday to resolve the crisis by calling a snap election before direct rule becomes effective. However, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said this was not an option.

It is not clear whether a vote in the region would help resolve the crisis.

An opinion poll published by the El Periodico newspaper on Sunday showed a snap election would probably have results similar to the last ballot, in 2015, when a coalition of pro-independence parties formed a minority government.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister said Puigdemont would be out of a job once direct rule was enforced and Madrid would install its own representative. The Spanish government has said it would call a regional election within six months.

“They are president of the regional government and senior figures in that government because of the constitution,” said Soraya Saenz de Santamaria during a radio interview.

“They are not entrusted with that role by any divine authority,” she also said.

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