Spain To Remove Catalonia President And Impose Direct Rule, Secessionists To Rally Tonight In Barcelona

The New York Times reports:

In a first for Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced on Saturday that he would remove the separatist government of the independence-minded region of Catalonia and initiate a process of direct rule from Madrid.

The announcement, made after an emergency cabinet meeting, was an unexpectedly forceful attempt to stop a yearslong drive for secession in Catalonia, which staged a highly controversial independence referendum on Oct. 1, even after it was declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts.

Mr. Rajoy took the bold steps with broad support from Spain’s main political opposition, and will almost certainly receive the required approval next week from the Spanish Senate, where his own conservative party holds a majority.

But the moves were immediately condemned by Catalan leaders and thrust Spain into uncharted waters, as the prime minister tried to put down the gravest constitutional crisis his country has faced since embracing democracy after the death of its dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

More from Spain’s The Local:

Rajoy is likely to announce plans to take control of Catalonia’s 16,000-strong police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, whose leader Josep Lluis Trapero could face up to 15 years in jail on sedition charges for failing to contain separatist protests ahead of the referendum.

EU leaders, who were at the ceremony to collect a prize for encouraging harmony in Europe, used their acceptance speeches to demand respect for the law in words that offered implicit backing to Madrid. “Some are sowing discord by deliberately ignoring law,” European parliament head Antonio Tajani said at the awards night in the northern city of Oviedo.

He added pointedly: “All too often in the past the prospect of redrawing borders has been presented as a heavenly panacea that has resulted in a hellish mess.”

As tensions continue to run high, independence supporters are set to rally in Barcelona Saturday evening calling for the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, the leaders of two powerful grassroots separatist groups who have been in jail since Monday pending investigation into sedition charges.