Madrid’s moves to take back some powers from Catalonia are the “worst attack since the dictatorship of Franco”.
The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was reacting to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s announcement that he has approved implementing the previously unused Article 155 of the country’s constitution to assume control of the region in a bid to thwart secession attempts.
:: What invoking Article 155 means for Catalonia
Mr Puigdemont said Mr Rajoy had set out to “humiliate” Catalonia in an “attack on democracy”.
He said removing powers from Catalonia was the “worst attack against the institutions and the people of Catalonia since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco”.
He added: “I ask the parliament to meet in a plenary session during which we, the representatives of the citizens’ sovereignty, will be able to decide over this attempt to liquidate our government and our democracy and act in consequence.”
Mr Rajoy said he wants the senate to give him permission to dissolve the regional government in Barcelona and call early elections.
He announced the measures to take over the regional cabinet’s functions after a crisis meeting of his own cabinet in the wake of the 1 October independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
Under his plans, the powers of Catalan officials would be transferred to the Spanish government – but he stressed he did not want to use them to rule Catalonia directly.
About 90% of Catalans who voted in the referendum backed breaking away from Spain, but only 40% of eligible voters cast a ballot, with many pro-union supporters declining to vote.
The PM’s move, aimed at blocking the independence movement, has sparked anger among separatists.
Carme Forcade, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, said the move by Madrid was a “coup and an “attack on democracy”.
She went on: “Prime Minister Rajoy wants the parliament of Catalonia to stop being a democratic parliament, and we will not allow this to happen.
“This is why we want to send to the citizens of this country a message of firmness and hope. We commit today, after the most serious attack against the Catalan institutions since they were restored, to the defence of the sovereignty of the parliament of Catalonia.”
On the streets of Barcelona, people banged pots and pans and drivers beeped their horns. By Saturday evening tens of thousands of people had turned out on the streets to demonstrate. There have been no reports of violence.
Catalonia’s administration currently runs its own policing, education and healthcare.
Mr Rajoy said he was concerned about the financial impact if Catalonia broke away, and claimed the latest figures on the economy were “worrying”.
A number of companies have already announced plans to move some or all of their operations out of the northeast region.
Article 155 allows central authorities to intervene when one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law.
Autonomy is a hugely sensitive issue in Catalonia, which saw its powers taken away under Spain’s military dictatorship.
Home to 7.5 million people, the region fiercely defends its own language and culture.
Meanwhile, King Felipe has said Catalonia “is and will remain an essential part of 21st century Spain”.
In an unusually emotional speech at a prize-giving ceremony, he said the Spanish government would resolve the fight over Catalonia’s bid for independence through “legitimate democratic institutions”.