Spain leader urges Senate to grant powers in Catalan crisis

October 27, 2017

MADRID (AP) — In an impassioned address, Spain’s prime minister on Friday urged the country’s Senate to grant special constitutional measures that would allow the central government to take control of Catalonia’s autonomous powers so it could halt the region’s independence bid.

But in Barcelona, separatist lawmakers filed a proposal for Catalonia’s regional parliament to vote later in the day on whether to establish an independent republic, as Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades appeared headed for a showdown. Thousands of pro-secession supporters gathered near the parliament building in anticipation.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who received rapturous applause before and after his speech in the Senate in Madrid, told the chamber Spain was facing a challenge not seen in its recent history.

What is happening in Catalonia is “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all, and that has consequences,” he said.

Rajoy said the government’s first move would be to dismiss Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his regional ministers if the Senate approves the Spanish government’s use of Article 155 of the Constitution in a vote later Friday.

The special measures, he said, were the only way out of the crisis, adding that Spain isn’t trying to take away liberties from Catalans but instead protect them.

Catalonia’s government rejects the moves by Spain’s government, and the region’s parliament is also to hold a special session starting early Friday afternoon. Pro-independence lawmakers have submitted a proposal for declaring independence to the regional parliament.

“We establish the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state of democratic and social rule of law,” said the proposal submitted by the ruling Catalan coalition Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) and their allies of the far-left CUP party.

Lawmakers from both parliamentary groups have a slim majority that would in theory allow them to pass the motion during a vote later Friday, if the parliament’s advisory board allows it.

The motion calls for opening the constituent process that includes drafting Catalonia’s new top laws and to open negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities “aimed at establishing a mutually beneficial regime of cooperation.”

“Today is the day that many Catalans’ long-held desire will be fulfilled, but tomorrow the cruel reality will set in with the Spanish state armed with its interpretation of Article 155,” the former speaker of the Catalan parliament Joan Rigol i Roig, told The Associated Press. “We can only hope that the conflict remains in the political realm.”

About 500 mayors of Catalan towns chanted “independence!” and raised their ceremonial wooden staves in a hall inside the regional parliament building shortly before the parliamentary session began.

Ramon Moliner, the mayor of Alp, in the northern Pyrenees region, said Friday was a historic day. “We are beginning a new chapter as a country, a very uncertain stage in many ways but very exciting,” he said.

Some opposition lawmakers in the prosperous region say they will boycott the move.

If Rajoy’s measures were granted, it will be the first time in four decades of democratic rule that the Madrid-based national government would directly run the affairs of one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, a move that will likely fan the flames of the Catalan revolt.

As lawmakers headed to the regional parliament in Barcelona, large crowds of independence supporters gathered outside in a park, waving Catalan flags and chanting slogans in favor of a new state being proclaimed.

“I am here today because we will start the Catalan Republic,” said 68-year-old protester Jordi Soler. “Today is the last chance,” he said, noting that Puigdemont had offered to negotiate with Spain’s central government, “but Madrid is starting with total repression and there is no longer any (other) option.”

Rajoy says the measures to take over Catalan affairs are aimed at restoring order and has promised to call a new regional election once that is achieved.

Puigdemont scrapped hopes of a possible end to the political deadlock on Thursday when he opted not to call an early election himself and halt the drift toward independence.

The parliamentary sessions in Madrid and Barcelona are likely to last several hours before each votes on their resolutions.

Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, thus guaranteeing the approval of his proposals. But he has also sought support from the country’s main opposition parties. It will then be up to the government when to implement them.

Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product. Polls show its 7.5 million inhabitants are roughly evenly divided over independence.