Catalan government sacked after independence declaration

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Spain on Friday sacked Catalonia's regional government, dissolved the Catalan parliament and called a snap election in the region for Dec. 21, in a bid to draw a line under Spain's worst political crisis in 40 years.

"We believe it is urgent to listen to Catalan citizens, to all of them, so that they can decide their future and nobody can act outside the law on their behalf," Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised speech.

On Friday Catalonia’s regional parliament declared independence. Germany, France the UK and the United States were quick to express support to the Spanish government and refuse to recognize the decvlaration.

The independence motion was passed in the 135-strong assembly with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and 2 blank ballots, the assembly’s speaker said.

The upper house of Spain’s parliament on Friday authorized the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to rule Catalonia directly from Madrid, minutes after the restive region declared independence from Spain.

Rajoy said he had formally removed Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont and his executive from office as part of measures to “restore normality” after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence earlier on Friday.

“We Spaniards are living through a sad day in which a lack of reason prevailed upon the law and demolished democracy in Catalonia,” the prime minister added in a televised address.

The situation is “heartbreaking, sad and distressing,” Rajoy said.

Other measures adopted by the government include the dismissal of the director of the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, as well as Catalan government representatives in Madrid and Brussels.

Spain’s central government will also close Catalan government “representations” around the world, except the one in Brussels.

“These are the first steps we are taking to prevent those who up until now were in charge of the Catalan government from continuing their escalation of disobedience,” Rajoy said.

The Spanish Senate earlier gave Rajoy’s government sweeping powers to impose direct rule on the wealthy, semi-autonomous region to quash its independence drive.

This followed a vote by 70 lawmakers out of 135 in the regional parliament to declare Catalonia “a republic in the form of an independent and sovereign state”.

EU President Donald Tusk said Friday that Madrid “remains our only interlocutor” after Catalan lawmakers voted to declare independence from Spain in a crisis threatening the stability of a key member of the bloc.

The European Union and its member states have stood firmly behind Madrid in the escalating standoff triggered by Catalonia’s hotly contested October 1 referendum on splitting from Spain.

As the situation escalated sharply, with Catalonia’s regional parliament voting to declare independence and Madrid vowing in turn to quash the bid for secession, Tusk appealed for calm.

“For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force,” he tweeted.

Earlier a top EU official said resolving the crisis in Catalonia was crucial to the whole of Europe, while reiterating the bloc’s staunch support for the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“We have to respect the constitution and that’s extremely important for Europe -- so it’s not a question of Spain, it’s a question of Europe,” Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for research, science and innovation, told reporters.

“We, as a European Union, have to be on the defense of the constitutional order of Spain.”

Brussels has for weeks insisted the standoff in Catalonia is an internal matter for key EU member Spain, resisting Catalan efforts to internationalize the issue and backing Madrid’s position that the referendum was illegal.

The United States considers Catalonia an “integral part of Spain” and supports Madrid’s measures to keep Spain “strong and united,” the State Department said Friday after Catalan lawmakers voted to declare independence.

“The United States enjoys a great friendship and an enduring partnership with our NATO ally Spain,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”

Nauert added that the United States and Spain “cooperate closely to advance our shared security and economic priorities.”

Catalan lawmakers voted earlier to declare independence, as Madrid vowed in turn to “restore legality” and quash the region’s secessionist bid.

The Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona passed a resolution to “declare Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic.”

Britain "does not and will not" recognize the unilateral declaration of independence made by the Catalan regional parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

"It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts. We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved," the spokesperson said.

French president Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that he was fully supportive of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, regarding the crisis taking place in Catalonia.

The Spanish government moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia, stripping the region of its autonomy less than an hour after its parliament declared independence in a stunning show of defiance.

“I have always said that I have one interlocutor in Spain, it is Prime Minister Rajoy,” Macron told journalists on the sidelines of a visit to French Guiana.

“There is a rule of law in Spain with constitutional rules. Mariano Rajoy wants these rules to be respected and he has my full support,” Macron added.

Mexico will not recognize Catalonia's declaration of independence from Spain, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote in a post on Twitter on Friday evening.

The political turmoil in Spain intensified on Friday as the Madrid government dismissed Catalonia’s president and parliament hours after the region declared independence.

Pena Nieto made it clear he will stand beside Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he confronts the nation’s most acute political crisis since it embraced democracy in 1978.

“Mexico will not recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of Catalonia,” Pena Nieto wrote. “We hope for a political and peaceful solution.”

Nations including France, Germany and the United States have also voiced their support for Spanish unity.

Spain was plunged into uncertainty on Oct. 1 when Catalonia, a prosperous northeastern state that accounts for 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product, held an independence referendum, though courts had declared the proceedings illegal. Separatists declared victory despite a participation of only 43 percent.

Shortly after the referendum, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said in a statement that the country favoured a unified Spain.

(Reuters, AFP)

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