Spain PM dissolves Catalan Parl, calls urgent regional polls

RSTV Bureau
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, Vice President Oriol Junqueras, left, and Carme Forcadell, the parliament president, sing the Catalan anthem inside the parliament after a vote on independence in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Catalonia's regional parliament has passed a motion saying they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont (center), Vice President Oriol Junqueras (left), and Carme Forcadell, the parliament president, sing the Catalan anthem inside the parliament after a vote on independence in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Catalonia’s regional parliament has passed a motion saying they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic.

Hours after the Catalan lawmakers voted to declare independence from Spain, Madrid took steps to quash the region’s secessionist bid. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he had dissolved the Catalan parliament and called regional elections on December 21.

Rajoy’s move is backed by sweeping powers approved by the Senate to stop a secessionist movement in Catalonia.

Rajoy said he had also 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 today.

On Friday, thousands of pro-independence activists gathered outside the regional parliament in Barcelona and passed a resolution to “declare Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic”.

Under the eyes of a nervous nation, Catalonia’s regional parliament had held a secret ballot, despite an opposition walkout, on a resolution the region’s authorities have no legal power to execute. The motion was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and two abstentions, a result that immediately saw Spanish shares fall sharply.

Catalan opposition MPs, refusing to even consider the resolution, walked out en masse on what one described as a “dark day” for democracy.

But those who stayed behind, cheered, clapped and embraced before breaking out in the Catalan anthem as the tally was announced.

Roughly the size of Belgium, the semi-autonomous north-eastern region accounts for about 16 per cent of Spain’s population and a fifth of its economic output.

Resentment to Madrid’s perceived interference has been growing for years, culminating in an October 1 independence vote deemed illegal by the central government and courts.

But while fiercely protective of their language, culture and autonomy – restored at the end of the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco – Catalans are deeply divided on independence.

Catalan authorities said 90 per cent voted “Yes” in the unregulated plebiscite held up by secessionist leaders as a mandate for independence for the wealthy region of 7.5 million people.

Only about 43 per cent of voters turned out, however, with many anti-secessionists staying away and others prevented from casting their ballot by Spanish police in a crackdown that turned violent.

Based on the vote, Puigdemont threatened to declare an independent republic. Madrid responded by turning to Article 155.

(With inputs from Agencies)