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Spain will sack Catalan government, call regional election

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the Catalan economy was already in worrying shape as a result of the regional government’s push for independence.

Members of the Catalan police Mossos d'Esquadra secure the area outside the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park) which houses the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona on 10 October 2017 ahead of an address by Catalonia's leader. Picture: AFP.

MADRID - The Spanish government decided on Saturday to sack the secessionist leadership of Catalonia and force the region into a new election, saying it had to take these unprecedented steps to prevent Catalan independence.

The plan, which still requires the approval of the upper house Senate, seeks to resolve Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades but risks an angry reaction from independence supporters, who plan street protests later in the day.

In outlining the cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the Catalan economy, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, was already in worrying shape as a result of the regional government’s push for independence.

“We will ask the Senate, with the aim of protecting the general interest of the nation, to authorise the government... to sack the Catalan president and his government,” Rajoy told a news conference.

It is the first time since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s that the central government has invoked the constitutional right to take control of a region and rule it directly from Madrid.

Direct rule will include full control of the region’s police, finances and public media. It will also curb the powers of the regional parliament.

Rajoy said he did not intend to use those special powers for more than six months and he would call a regional election as soon as the situation was back to normal.

“Our objective is to restore the law and a normal cohabitation among citizens, which has deteriorated a lot, continue with the economic recovery, which is under threat today in Catalonia, and celebrate elections in a situation of normality,” Rajoy said.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s upper house, the Senate, where a vote is scheduled for 27 October.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who was meeting with his government, will deliver an address at 9pm, his office said. He is due to join the protests in Barcelona.

Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on 10 October, but on Thursday he threatened to press ahead with a more formal one unless the government agreed to a dialogue.

The Catalan parliament is expected to decide on Monday whether it will hold a plenary session next week to proclaim formally the republic of Catalonia.

Catalan media have said Puigdemont could decide to dissolve the regional parliament himself right after independence is proclaimed and call elections before the Spanish senate makes direct rule effective.

Under Catalan laws, those elections would take place within two months.

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