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Spanish PM Dissolves Catalonia's Government, Fires Leaders After Independence Move


Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his government has begun the process of taking direct control of rebellious region of Catalonia, declaring its independence vote "null and void," dismissing its leaders, and formally dissolving its parliament.

Rajoy's announcement came hours after the regional parliament of Catalonia declared independence, which prompted the central authorities in Madrid to begin steps toward imposing direct control over the autonomous region.

Rajoy, speaking on live television after an emergency cabinet meeting on October 27, said new elections will be held in Catalonia on December 21, a move to "return legitimacy" to the Catalonian regional government.

He said Catalonia's independence declaration represented "kidnapping" and an effort to "steal" a part of the territory belonging to the "rest of Spain," calling it a "sad day" marked by a "lack of reason."

"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," Rajoy said.

Spanish prosecutors announced they would file "rebellion" charges against regional President Carles Puigdemont, and perhaps other members of Catalonia's cabinet and parliament.

The Spanish Senate on October 27 voted 214-47 in favor of allowing Madrid to take control of Catalonia, depose Puigdemont, and to remove the rest of his executives.

That move came shortly after Catalonia's parliament voted 70-10 in favor of a split from Spain in the 135-seat body. Lawmakers from three main opposition parties that favor remaining a part of Spain boycotted the vote.

In Barcelona, Catalans flooded into the central square to celebrate the declaration, with many calling for the removal of the Spanish flag atop the Catalonian government palace.

Meanwhile, the region's main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, has called on Catalonians to reject any orders from Madrid and to engage in "peaceful resistance."

The Catalonia motion called for beginning an independence process that includes drafting new laws for the region and opening negotiations "on equal footing" with Madrid to establish cooperation.

Catalonia on October 1 held an independence referendum that Madrid called illegal and which was opposed by the European Union as well.

Catalonia lawmakers said just over 90 percent of voters chose in favor of independence in the referendum. Surveys had indicated a minority of about 40 percent in the region favored a split, but many opposed to the referendum boycotted the vote.

Spain's allies in Europe and the United States voiced their support for Madrid.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement on October 27 that Catalonia was an integral part of Spain, and that Washington backed the Spanish government's measures to keep Spain united.

Many of the EU's 28 members have expressed concerns that moves such as Catalonia's, if allowed to succeed, could encourage secessionist movements in their countries.

EU President Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter after Catalonia's declaration that for the bloc, "nothing changes."

He said the EU will continue to deal only with Madrid, but added that "I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force."

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on October 27 echoed those worries, saying, "I wouldn't want the European Union to consist of 95 member states in the future."

"Nobody in the European Union will recognize" the Catalan vote, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, Steffen Seibert, gave strong backing to Madrid.

"Spain's sovereignty and territorial integrity are and remain inviolable. A unilaterally proclaimed independence by Catalonia harms these essential principles," he said. "The federal government doesn't recognize this sort of independence declaration."

The leaders of France, Britain, and Canada issued similar statements backing Spain's move to rein in Catalonia's independence bid.

A spokesman at Spain's prosecutor office said it will seek rebellion charges for those responsible for the independence declaration.

He added that the prosecutor will determine if the charges should pertain only to the Catalan cabinet, including Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, or if they should also focus on members of parliament.

Catalonia, Spain's richest region, has a separate language and culture and includes the city of Barcelona. It has been a part of Spain since the 15th century but has a long history of separatist sentiment.

With a population of 7.5 million people, Catalonia produces some 20 percent of Spain's economic output.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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