Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired the government of the rebellious Catalonia region Friday, dissolved the regional parliament and ordered new elections hours after after Catalan lawmakers illegally declared an independent nation. This is Spain’s most serious political crisis since the return of democracy four decades ago.
A new regional election will be held in Catalonia on Dec. 21, said Rajoy in a televised address.
He removed the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and his cabinet, as well the director general of the autonomous police force. He also ordered Catalonia’s representative offices overseas to close.
Pending the elections and formation of a new regional government, Rajoy said Catalonia’s administration would be run from Madrid.
“Spain is living through a sad day,” Rajoy said. “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.”
As he spoke, thousands of independence supporters packed the Sant Jaume Square in front of the Catalan regional headquarters in Barcelona, their earlier joyful mood somewhat dampened by Rajoy’s actions.
Despite the emotions and celebrations inside and outside the building, it was a futile gesture as shortly afterwards the Spanish Senate in Madrid approved the imposition of direct rule.
France, Germany, and other European countries, as well as the United States, rejected the independence declaration and said they supported Rajoy’s efforts to preserve Spain’s unity.
Independence supporters have since called for a campaign of disobedience. Immediately after news of the vote, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil.
Catalonia’s independence push has caused deep resentment around Spain. The chaos has prompted businesses to leave the area and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could spark separatist notions around the continent.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s most prosperous regions and already has a high degree of autonomy. But it has a litany of historic grievances, exacerbated during the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when its culture and politics were suppressed.
The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government and urged them to follow “peaceful resistance.”
“Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. In times of difficulty and in times of celebration. Now more than ever,” Puigdemont said on Twitter. But less than an hour later, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly. Spain’s constitutional court started a review of the vote for prosecutors to decide if it constituted rebellion.
In Brussels, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the independence vote changed nothing and the EU would only deal with the central government.
Spain’s stock market fell as much 2.1 percent to a four-day low during the day, 10-year government bond yields hit a day high, and the euro dipped against the dollar on Friday after the Catalan independence declaration. The region contributes about a fifth of Spain’s economy, the fourth-largest in the eurozone.
JP Morgan said that due to the uncertainty, it was lowering its forecast for Spain’s GDP for the last quarter of 2017 and first of 2018 to below the 3.5 per cent seen so far this year.
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