CATALAN’S deposed leader has seemingly refused to concede he had been sacked as he called for calm in Spain as the country teeters on the brink of its worst political crisis in four decades.
As the Spanish government held its first meeting to discuss their new roles since imposing direct rule over Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont instead promised to continue to build a “free country”, and called for “democratic opposition” to Madrid.
In the pre-recorded, televised message, Puigdemont urged people to continue pushing for independence, saying: “We do not deviate: we continue persevering in the only attitude that can make us winners.
“Without violence, without insults, in an inclusive way, respecting people and symbols, opinions, and also respecting the protests of the Catalans who do not agree with what has decided the parliamentary majority.”
As pro-unity protesters crowds took to the streets on Saturday, screaming “prison for Puigdemont”, the leader said “patience, perseverance and perspective” was needed.
It comes after fears that the country could further descend into violence have surfaced after the Prime Minister ordered fresh elections and fired Catalonia’s hero police chief who led its response to the Barcelona ISIS terror attack.
Catalonia officials have also been stripped of their powers across civil service, finances and public media, with all eyes on whether independence supporters will carry out their threat of peaceful resistance to Madrid’s takeover.
Fights erupted on the streets of Barcelona last night as both sides of the argument took to the streets and further protests were held in Madrid today amid fears local police could resist the national force.
Further violence could unfold ahead of the December 21 elections, with threats that politicians previously responsible for the independence vote could face treason charges and time behind bars.
As Spanish State Secretaries today met to organise taking over the duties of Catalan regional ministries, it had been reported arrests over the independence vote could be made as early as Monday.
But sacked Catalonia police chiefs have called for the “security of all” to be the main priority as focus turns to whether Catalonia’s separatist executive will willingly step down.
Last night, demonstrators in Barcelona broke out in ecstatic shouts of: “Independence!” as the Catalan was declared independent, and separatist MPs cheered, clapped and embraced before breaking out in the Catalan anthem.
Spain’s leader instead seized control of the rebel region after the controversial independence motion was passed in the 135-strong assembly by 60 votes.
Rajoy dissolved the regional parliament and stripped Catalonia’s most senior police officials of their powers, with it this morning announced Catalonia’s regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero had been sacked at 4am.
Calling on the fresh elections to “restore normality”, Prime Minister Rajoy last night announced: “We have decided to sack the Catalan government. Central government will assume the powers of the Catalan administration.”
He added: “It’s not about suspending or meddling in the self-government (of Catalonia), but to return it to normality and legality as soon as possible.”
His deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria in charge of the Catalan government until the local elections can be held.
The Spanish Senate granted the government special constitutional powers to stop the wealthy region’s move toward independence.
In special measures published overnight in an official gazette, Catalan’s leader Carles Puigdemont and 12 members of the Catalan Cabinet will no longer be paid and could be charged with usurping others’ functions if they refuse to obey the Spanish government’s ruling.
Other measures adopted by the government this morning include the dismissal of Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalan’s regional police force, as well as Catalan government representatives in Madrid and Brussels.
Trapero became a hero to the secessionists after his force took a much softer stance than national police in enforcing a government ban on an independence referendum on October 1.
Trapero’s dismissal was signed off by Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido. Spain’s High Court last week banned Trapero from leaving Spain and seized his passport as part of an investigation for alleged sedition, although it did not order his arrest.
He had become the image of Catalonia worldwide in the wake of the terror attacks in Barcelona, keeping the globe informed of the horrors that saw scores of tourists mowed down in Barcelona and the Mediterranean resort of nearby Cambrils last August.
Police smashed the jihadist cell, shooting several dead to save the lives of more innocent holidaymakers and locals, and successfully tracked down and captured other members of the gang of Islamic fanatics.
In a memo released this morning, Mossos and national police officers told Reuters: “Given that there is it is likely to be an increase in gatherings and rallies of citizens in all the territory and that there are people of different thoughts, we must remember that it is our responsibility to guarantee the security of all and help these to take place without incident.”
Opponents of independence for Catalonia have taken to the streets of Madrid this morning, with thousands waving Spanish flags in the emotional rally.
Despite the controversy, Catalan’s Puigdemont remained defiant, tweeting: “Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. “At the service of people. In the difficult moments and at the moments of celebration. Now more than ever.”
Violence last night broke out in Barcelona in response, with at least two injured as demonstration for and against independence raged for hours.
A Catalan radio station was attacked and had its windows cracked by angry unionists last night.
Experts have warned of further violence, with Federico Santi, Europe analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, saying there could be “more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists,” echoing widely-held fears.
The continued upheaval follows a partial referendum held in the eastern region of the country earlier this month that saw violence break out as police dragged voters out of polling stations.
The unofficial referendum on October 1 saw nearly half of Catalan citizens turn out and vote overwhelmingly in support of independence.
The Spanish government has received unwavering support from his European allies and the United States.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain “will not recognise” Catalonia as an independent country branding the vote “illegal.”
As the situation escalated sharply, European Council President Donald Tusk appealed for calm.
“For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force,” he tweeted.
But Scotland offered a rare voice of support to Catalonia, with Scottish external affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop saying: “While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future.”
She added that the Declaration of Independence had come only after repeated calls for dialogue were refused, saying: “Now, more than ever, the priority of all those who consider themselves friends and allies of Spain should be to encourage a process of dialogue to find a way forward that respects democracy and the rule of law.
“The imposition of direct rule cannot be the solution and should be of concern to democrats everywhere.”
Earlier a top EU official said resolving the crisis in Catalonia was crucial to the whole of Europe.
The vote comes days after Spain’s government announced it will take over running Catalonia — but denied it was staging a coup.
Spanish crowds last night waved Catalan separatist flags as they marched against the decision, and the imprisonment of civil society leaders Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, both leading figures in the October 1 referendum.
Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont gave a speech after joining the afternoon protest, saying in a mix of Catalan, Spanish and English: “[The Spanish government has waged] the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people since the decrees of military dictator Francisco Franco abolishing the Catalan government.
“I ask the parliament to meet in a plenary session during which we, the representatives of the citizens’ sovereignty, will be able to decide over this attempt to liquidate our government and our democracy and act in consequence.”
Police said that by 5.30pm, 450,000 people had joined the demonstration before Puigdemont said the region would not accept Madrid’s plans.
President Rajoy needs the permission of Spain’s parliament to exercise the legal measures which he wants to use to curb the region’s power, dissolve the government, and call a national election within six months.
Mr Rajoy had said if he was successful in declaring independence, his actions would restore the law, make sure regional institutions were neutral, and guarantee public services and economic activity as well as preserve the civil rights of all citizens.
Yesterday Spain’s national security department said an undisclosed number of government websites had been hit in recent weeks with slogans supporting independence for the region.
In a YouTube video posted by an account linked to Anonymous, the group announced actions that would be rolled out on Saturday as part of ‘Operation Free Catalonia’.
No internal information was compromised.
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